Melvin Harris
Courtesy of Diana Jackson
August 30, 2018 12:57 PM

The family of an Arizona father accused of murder after police say he beat a man who allegedly tried to enter his teen daughter’s bathroom stall at a Phoenix gas station is speaking out in his defense.

“He didn’t mean for anybody to get killed,” Diana Jackson, the fiancée of Melvin Harris, 40, and the mother of the couple’s 16-year-old daughter, tells PEOPLE.

When Harris learned in a phone call from Jackson that 26-year-old Leon Armstrong had died four days after the two men had a physical confrontation following the bathroom incident on Aug. 3 at a QuikTrip, Jackson says “he actually broke down in tears.”

She says Harris told her: “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was just trying to protect my daughter.”

Leon Armstrong
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

The daughter, whose identity PEOPLE is protecting because she’s a minor, said the same thing in an interview with CBS This Morning — that Harris was “protecting me.”

“Now someone’s dead, and now everyone’s coming at me like I did something to him,” she said, expressing regret that the bathroom incident was brought to her father’s attention.

The family of Armstrong, meanwhile, says Armstrong suffered from schizophrenia. “Though he did have some mental illness, he was never a person that was considered a pedophile of any sort,” his aunt, Kathilena Johnson, told CBS.

Armstrong’s family described him as “a kindhearted, and loving young man that is gone way too soon” in a GoFundMe page for help with his funeral expenses. They said he leaves behind his mother, six siblings including a twin brother and adoptive parents “who all love and will miss him dearly.”

Jackson says that Harris — a father of six and grandfather of two who worked in property maintenance and construction — had picked up their daughter and her friends from work shortly after 11 p.m. Aug. 3 when their daughter asked him to swing by the QuikTrip so she could buy a drink and use the restroom.

From left: Diana Jackson and Melvin Harris
Courtesy of Diana Jackson

According to Phoenix police, while Harris waited in his vehicle, a man — later identified as Armstrong — approached him and asked for money, which Harris obliged. Harris then saw the man enter the store after his daughter.

Jackson says the teen later related that, while she was alone in the women’s restroom behind a locked stall door, a man entered. “He was shaking the stall hard and she was scared, but she just sat there quiet,” Jackson says.

At least one of the teen’s friends saw the man go into the restroom — the men’s restroom is on another side of the store, says Jackson — and went in to chase him out. It was one of those friends, and not Harris’ daughter, who first told Harris what happened, Jackson says.

Stepping into the store himself, Harris relayed the incident to a register clerk, then to a security guard, and then to a second security guard who reportedly told Harris — in front of the girls — “that was the third time that day something like that had happened,” Jackson says.

“When they were driving off to leave, that’s when my daughter said they saw [Armstrong] walking,” Jackson says. Harris stopped his vehicle and got out to confront Armstrong. “He basically said, ‘hey, you went into the bathroom with my daughter, she’s 16, that’s not cool.'”

Melvin Harris
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

Jackson says her daughter could not hear what happened next, but the girl told her mother that “Leon swung first and then Melvin swung back.” Police allege Harris punched Armstrong in the face, knocking him down, and continued to punch him in the head several more times while also kicking and stomping him, as recounted by other witnesses.

Harris left the scene but authorities tracked him to his residence, where he allegedly denied striking Armstrong while he was down and said he had punched back in defense.

Police say Armstrong lost consciousness during the assault and was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with brain injures and a broken nose, and died Aug. 7.

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Harris initially was arrested on a charge of aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury. After Armstrong died, the charge was upgraded to second-degree murder.

Harris remains in Maricopa County jail with a $100,000 bond, PEOPLE confirms. An attorney who could speak on his behalf was not identified in the jail record.

Harris’ daughter “just feels like, if she never would have asked him to stop at that store, this never would have happened,” says Jackson. If similar incidents allegedly involving Armstrong had occurred earlier in the day, she asks, “why didn’t the security take the necessary steps to keep him off the premises?”

“If they would have done what they were supposed to do,” she says, “him and Melvin and my daughter would have never crossed paths.”

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