It’s midnight, and D.C. police officer Derrick Ferguson and his wife, RoShann, are exhausted. He spent the day patrolling neighborhood streets, while she had a tough afternoon working as a home health aide.
Even though it’s late, rest will have to wait. Their two sons are playing loudly in the next room, and sitting up in the middle of the couple’s bed is Kodie Brown, their 3-year-old granddaughter, who is crying and saying, “I miss my mommy.”
Hectic evenings like this one have unfolded any number of times over the past 17 months for the Fergusons. Ever since Kodie’s mother was killed by the girl’s father in a brazen mid-afternoon shooting in December 2012, they have been her primary caregivers, raising her and their boys in their cramped two-bedroom apartment in Northeast Washington. Kodie was injured that day, too, when a bullet ripped across her face.
It’s been a strain on the family of modest means, who say they’ve exhausted their savings and find it hard to take on extra overtime shifts at their jobs because they have to juggle child care. But in a city where gun violence continues to disrupt hundreds of lives each year, their home offers a glimpse behind the scene of survivors and the routines that make them whole.
“She demands so much love,” Derrick Ferguson, 49, said recently. “Even when I am upset with her, all she has to do is look at me with those big puppy-dog eyes and I break down.”
The couple’s adoption of Kodie was the culmination of a flood of support that the girl received in the weeks and months after the shooting. Kodie was in her mother’s arms at a bus stop in Southeast Washington, listening to her parents argue, when a bullet changed her life forever. Her father pulled a handgun from under his shirt and opened fire. Kodie’s mother, 20-year-old Selina Brown, was killed. The father fled to New York and killed himself.
At the time, local leaders east of the Anacostia River rallied to help the family, and Kodie, who was nearly 2 at the time of the shooting, was showered with presents: teddy bears, clothes and her favorite — princess dolls. A walk-a-thon was held in her honor, and radio host Roach Brown, of WPFW (89.3 FM), invited the family to be on his show.
Meanwhile, a trust fund was established to raise money for Kodie, and the shooting incident led to a broader conversation about domestic violence and its youngest victims.
And now, a new set of benefactors is helping Kodie and the Fergusons with the next phase of her recovery. Some of the bones behind Kodie’s face were fractured when the bullet grazed her face, and in March, at the Face Forward clinic in Los Angeles, she had the first of several operations to remove scar tissue that begins under her left eye.
“No baby should have to go through what she has gone through,” said Deborah Alessi, who has helped set up a foundation that pays for victims of domestic violence to have plastic surgery. “She has amazing grandparents, but I can see the sadness. The only thing that we can do is help her on her way.”
RoShann Ferguson said that Kodie will have several other operations in Los Angeles so more scar tissue can be removed and bones in her face can be reset. The clinic will do the procedures for free.
But in Washington, the family continues to struggle with the weight of their daily routine. Each day is a constant jigsaw puzzle — trying to match schedules and budgets, babysitting hours and the rigors of raising two other children. Derrick Ferguson works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, with Wednesday and Thursday off, and RoShann Ferguson works Monday to Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off. “Often, when I am walking in the door, she is walking out. If we are lucky, we will have time after midnight, but often, Kodie is up with us at night because she has abandonment issues.”
One of the main concerns for the Fergusons is ensuring that Kodie’s early years have a sense of normalcy. That’s why they fight hard to make happy memories close and far: to Kings Dominion during Easter week or a playground at RFK Stadium on a spring day. Both grandparents work hard at filling Kodie’s shelves with dolls and storybooks.
Despite the long days and nights, Ferguson, who is 6-feet-4, said that nothing has humbled him like taking care of the little girl who wants, needs and loves so much.
“Daddy! This is a princess!” Kodie said as she blew a bubble on a recent afternoon at a local library.
“Who is that? A princess?” asked Ferguson. “You are beautiful! Give poppa a kiss. I love you.”
“I love you, too, pappa,” she said.