By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2010; B04
For most of Brishell Jones's short life, her fiercely protective mother tried to shield her from the crime and violence of their Southwest Washington neighborhood, sending her to Catholic schools and even home-schooling her for the past year.
In the end, Nardyne Jefferies couldn't protect her only child. The frail young woman -- an aspiring chef -- was with friends just two blocks away from her home on March 30, when she was among four teenagers shot to death by assailants who sprayed a crowded street with an AK-47-style assault weapon. Three suspects -- District men Orlando Carter, 20, and Nathaniel Simms, 26, and a juvenile -- have been arrested and face multiple charges in the drive-by attack.
In a two-hour service Thursday, more than 950 mourners gathered at Canaan Baptist Church in Northwest to remember the 16-year-old known as "Bri" with hymns and tributes. Religious leaders and politicians -- including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) -- mourned the bright life lost and railed against the crime that led to her death. The mass shooting -- which also left five injured -- was one of the worst in the District in years.
Jones's mother wept. On the church steps afterward, her sense of helplessness and loss was palpable as she faced the news cameras.
"You gun down my child? You blow her head off? And for what? She didn't even know them," Jefferies said in anguish, as family members tried to comfort her. Authorities say they think a dispute over a missing bracelet sparked a chain of events that led to the shooting.
In fiery language that brought the mourners to their feet, the Rev. Larry Owens Jr. castigated government officials, the media and even parents for neglecting the young people in the neighborhood where the killings occurred, a fraying stretch of South Capitol Street where Southeast and Southwest meet.
"I still look to the Father and say: 'Lord, why? Why did you allow such a thing to happen?' " Owens said in his eulogy.
The shootings at the hands of those "who don't know how valuable life is" should be a wake-up call, Owens said. "Tomorrow isn't promised."
Friends and classmates remembered Jones as a sweet girl who called her friends "Honey," loved butterflies and wore clothes with the "Hello Kitty" logo. She lived with her mother in a newly built townhouse development in the Bellevue neighborhood of Southwest, but spent summers with relatives in her father's native Trinidad, where she learned how to play the steel pan drums. She was set to play in a steel band for an upcoming celebration in Baltimore.
Her mother was nervous about the violence and gang activity and worked hard to make sure Jones attended private or charter schools, said the Rev. Daniel Ward, the head of the Resource Center for Religious Institutes in Silver Spring, who got to know the family when Jefferies worked as his secretary.
As a student at the Washington Middle School for Girls, Jones was well liked but struggled with health problems, plagued by allergies and other issues, teachers and friends said.
"She was one of those kids that the streets of Southeast could never harden," said the principal, Angela B. Stepancic. She said she used to joke with Jones about an ugly, wheeled book bag that the girl had to use because of chronic back trouble.
"She was dizzy and airheaded at times, but this gave way to such an innocence that she maintained through the present," Stepancic said.
For the last year, Jefferies had been home-schooling her daughter as Jones took culinary classes online. She had been accepted for the fall into a culinary arts school in North Carolina, friends said.
After the shooting, community leaders said they were planning a youth retreat that would focus on ways to stop the violence. Services were held Tuesday and Wednesday to honor the other shooting victims -- 17-year-old Tavon Nelson, 17; William Henry Jones III, 19; and DaVaughn A. Boyd, 18. Jones's service was the last.
Those who filed out behind the small silver coffin as the choir sang "I'll Fly Away" said they prayed that the girl's service really would be the final one they attended for a life lost too soon. But they said that with the threat of retaliatory violence still hanging in the air, nobody could be sure.