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NW Shooting Cut Short a Life Still Healing

Year's First Homicide Victim Quit Drugs, Embraced Family

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page C05

Laurisa Ryland battled a cocaine addiction for years and watched as some of her eight children were adopted by families who could better raise them, friends and relatives recalled last week.

Then, five years ago, after her oldest daughter had a baby, Ryland pledged to turn her life around.

From left, Lashawn Dews, the victim's daughter Anitra White, with her child, Kaprise, and Michelle Monroe pray. (Photos Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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She entered a drug treatment program and shook her habit. She got a job and returned to college, taking classes to earn a certificate to care for the mentally challenged. Finding solace in religion, she studied the Bible intensely and regularly attended church.

Friends and relatives said Ryland's turnabout made her death -- at age 43, she became the District's first homicide of 2005 -- especially painful. Ryland was an example to those with far more mundane problems, they said.

"My mother went through a really difficult time," said Anitra White, 23, Ryland's eldest child. "She was using drugs. Then, in '99, she stopped. She promised me she wanted to be a good grandmother," White said.

About 20 friends, relatives, police detectives and a prosecutor gathered Tuesday night at the dark street corner where Ryland was slain about 11 p.m. Jan. 6.

Police said Ryland was shot while sitting in the driver's seat of her Dodge Caravan at First and Q streets NW. The gunman fled down an alley, and Ryland died in the van.

Detectives said the killing stemmed from a domestic dispute. Friday, they arrested Ryland's boyfriend, Michael H. Blakeney, 31, of the 700 block of Chesapeake Street SE, when he showed up to meet with his parole officer. Blakeney was on parole for a drug offense.

At the vigil last week, mourners huddled with photographs and candles under a light rain. Helium-filled balloons were tied to a fence. Teddy bears were left in a small patch of mulch under a tree.

Relatives sobbed uncontrollably. Several friends did not take their eyes off the shattered glass still on the street from Ryland's van.

"I am going to miss her a whole lot," said Crystal Burgess, 33, a close friend, after saying a short prayer. "She will not be forgotten."

Ryland, of the 2100 block of Maryland Ave NE, was born in the District and graduated from Dunbar High School in 1979. She attended Howard University for a short time and held odd jobs. But she slipped into a drug habit, those who knew her said.

Over the years, several of her children were adopted by other families because Ryland was unable to control her addiction. She told friends and relatives that she regretted losing her children, and she made a point to remain a presence in their lives, family members said.

Friends and family members said the change that occurred after Ryland's eldest daughter had a baby was striking.

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