Overflowing With Grief for Victim of Stabbing

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hundreds of family members, friends and strangers gathered at New Covenant Baptist Church in Southeast Washington yesterday to remember 33-year-old Tiffany Gates, whose fear of being killed by an angry former boyfriend became a reality, police said.

Mourners filled the pews, lined the walls and overflowed into the streets. They sang hymns such as "I'll Fly Away," and William Kellibrew, an old friend who had seen his mother killed 24 years ago by her former boyfriend, sang "You Raise Me Up." In letters read by other family members, her parents expressed their grief.

Gates was stabbed to death last week, and a former boyfriend, Roderick A. Ridley, 31, who was covered in blood, was arrested at the scene in Southeast and charged with murder. She had dialed for help, reaching friends, the D.C. 911 communications center and a U.S. marshal, who was on the phone as Ridley burst into her apartment.

"He is here and kicking my door in," she told the marshal. By the time help arrived, she lay on the floor, dying.

Bishop A. Norris Smith tried to assure the hundreds of tearful mourners at the church yesterday that God had protected Gates from pain.

"Regardless of how many times he stabbed or cut her, she never felt a thing. God reached down and snatched her soul," he said.

Gates, known by her family and friends as "Tiff" or "Apple," grew up in the Bloomingdale area of D.C., attended Holy Redeemer School as a child and later studied dance at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District. In 1992, she graduated from McKinley Technical High School, where she was a cheerleader. She attended St. Augustine's College in Durham, N.C.

In the District, she worked at Housing Opportunities Unlimited, an organization that promotes affordable housing. In her spare time, Gates, who loved the latest fashions, styled hair for friends and family.

An obituary distributed at the church described Gates as a strong-willed person who would fiercely defend her opinion. But after a fight with someone, she would always come back and say, "I love you," according to the obituary. She had a knack for bringing people together, the pastor recalled.

"Tiffany has done something in death that she couldn't do in life. She got all of us in church," Smith said.

During the service, letters were read from Gates's mother, Vanessa Gates, and her father, Michael R. "Butch" Jackson. "The pain I feel now is made worse because I was not there to protect you baby girl," her father wrote. "A parent should never have to bury their child first."

Gates and Ridley began dating in the summer of 2007, records show, and lived together for a while in the 3900 block of D Street SE, in the same apartment where she was killed. Relatives said she had been stalked by Ridley for at least a year.

During the service, Smith spoke about a call Gates made to her sister, Manyka "Nikki" Gaither, to say, "I am home," just before she was attacked.

"Tiffany wanted us to know that she went home to be with the Lord," the pastor said.

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