By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
LaVonda Nicole "Nikki" King -- the youngest victim of last week's devastating Metro train wreck -- was remembered for her can-do spirit and her love of fashion during funeral services yesterday at Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Capitol Heights.
Amid tears, pink lilies and the gospel hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," more than 250 people mourned King, 23, an aspiring beautician who had just signed the papers to open a salon in the days before the accident. She was headed to pick up her sons, Andre, 3, and Emmanuel, 2, when she was killed. Emergency personnel tried desperately to cut through the twisted metal wreckage to save her but were unable to reach her in time.
In his eulogy, the Rev. Michael Turner recalled the heart-rending moment when a chaplain who was a passenger on the train tried to comfort King as she lay dying, asking her to hold on. "The message was, there is help and strength in God," Turner said.
King's mother, Tawanda Brown of Upper Marlboro, gave an emotional tribute to her daughter, a delicate young woman whom s he called "my rock . . . my right hand when things got crazy." Brown had been talking with King on her cellphone as she boarded the Red Line train, chatting about fliers they were going to have printed to advertise King's salon, LaVonda's House of Beauty.
"She was so excited, she was glowing," Brown said in an interview. "She had so many dreams about the beauty salon. She had achieved what she wanted to do."
King was also making plans for an promotional fashion show, her mother said.
Brown wrote a letter to her daughter that was read at the service by a family friend. "I promise to finish your fliers," Brown wrote. "I promise to remind [your sons] to smile and to dance even if no one is there. I can't promise not to cry."
King was raised in the Kenilworth neighborhood of Northeast and the Maryland suburbs, graduating from Largo High School in 2003. She attended Wilberforce University in Ohio for three semesters before she returned to the Washington area to attend beauty school in New Carrollton, from which she graduated in March. Speaking at the service, an aunt recounted how King was so broke and homesick that she left Wilberforce during her sophomore year to return home by bus -- without a ticket.
"It just showed you how she was. When she wanted to get something done, she got it done," recalled cousin Larry Jackson, 27, after the service.
Relatives wearing pink ribbons -- King's favorite color -- said she was recently engaged to the father of one of her sons and was trying to create a better life for her family.
Casandra Elliott Cunningham, an aunt from Fort Washington, said her niece was an entrepreneur even as a young girl, hosting lemonade stands and earning the title of queen of her third-grade class for raising funds for her school. She was putting her new business first but hoped to marry her fiance, Jose Bimbo III, this year. Her young sons don't really understand what's going on, the aunt said.
"It's truly a tragic loss," she said. "It's unbelievable. Her oldest son today was pointing at the casket saying, 'There's Mommy.' I felt so bad."