Page 2 of 2   <      

Mom of teen killed in D.C. shooting turns grief into action

Jefferies thought she could keep daughter Brishell safe by home-schooling her, but the 16-year-old was one of four people gunned down March 30 in Southeast Washington.

The mother and daughter were "connected at the hip," said Jefferies's friend and high school classmate Kim Burch. "If you'd see one, you'd see the other."

Friends and family say Jefferies tried to include Brishell in everything she did -- giving her rides on her Suzuki motorcycle, even carting her to work on occasion. Her large, extended family -- including Brishell's father Lennox Jones, a contractor from Trinidad -- doted on the petite, and sometimes frail, young girl who suffered from asthma. When she tweeted on a plastic recorder at a kiddie concert, the family acted as if she were performing in a symphony hall, Jefferies said.

She was determined that Brishell attend good schools, said the Rev. Daniel Ward, head of the Resource Center for Religious Institutes in Silver Spring, for whom Jefferies worked as a secretary. "That's the irony of this whole situation," Ward said. "She was killed in this kind of gang violence, and that was what she didn't want Bri to be involved in. "

She enrolled Brishell in the private Washington Middle School for Girls. She briefly attended a Catholic high school before Jefferies enrolled her in the charter Hospitality High School to foster her growing interest in becoming a chef. She hoped to attend a culinary arts program in Georgia, friends said.

Brishell loved watching the Food Network and creating recipes, her mother said, always calling to ask if she could stop on the way home from work to pick up some exotic spice, or Jamaican jerk sauce, or extra virgin olive oil. When a friend wrinkled her nose at a tomato-and-cheese salad, Brishell admonished her, "You need to broaden your taste buds. That's fresh mozzarella."

But after a scary moment at a Metro stop, when a thug flashed a gun at Brishell and her friends, Jefferies pulled her out of high school and had her continue her hospitality studies from home.

"I thought, 'What's the point. Let her be home, let her be safe,' " Jefferies said. "Then she walked right around the corner and was slaughtered, just like an animal."

On March 30, Brishell went with some girlfriends to a funeral for another youth, Jordan Howe, who had been killed the previous week over a stolen bracelet. She called her mother about 6:45 p.m. to ask if she could head up to the corner strip mall to meet a friend and return her backpack.

"Oh, Mommy, please," she begged, according to her mother. "I'm not going to be long. Don't treat me like a baby."

Jefferies acquiesced. She had no idea that four men wearing ninja-type masks in a minivan, loaded with an AK-47 rifle and other weapons, were heading that way, intent on doing harm. They had planned to gun down mourners at Howe's funeral but settled for the group of youths gathered on the corner of South Capitol Street, some of whom were wearing T-shirts with Howe's picture. Brishell stood among them. Two other teens were killed in the drive-by -- DaVaughn Boyd, 18, and William Jones III, 19 -- and six were wounded. Five men were charged in the attack.

Jefferies was exercising when word reached her. She flew to the scene in bare feet.

"I ran like a wild, mad woman," Jefferies recalled. "I'm calling Brishell's phone and begging and pleading with God: 'Not my child. I'll take her injured, I'll take her handicapped, but not dead. Not my child.' "

But in her heart, she knew: "I felt like everything was sucked out of me on the way to the scene."

The funeral was a blur. Beforehand, she insisted on doing her daughter's makeup and hair as she lay in her lilac coffin.

Ronald Moten, co-founder of the anti-violence group Peaceoholics, said he had seen many grieving parents but few as fierce as Jefferies. She wants tougher penalties for repeat offenders and stricter gun laws. She's trying to organize a peace rally for this month. Moten likened her grit to that of antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan.

"She has that spirit, you feel what I'm saying?" he said. "She is determined not to let her daughter's death be in vain."

Nights are now the worst, Jefferies said. There's no one at the dinner table, no one to watch a movie with. She's trying to forget Sunday is Mother's Day.

Brishell had the celebration planned out -- she'd reserved a table for them at the Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao months ago.

"It was for our Mother's Day dinner," Jefferies told the D.C. Council one day, as politicians looked on. She held up an e-mail from her daughter and waved it in the air. "Which I will not have. Ever. Again. That's all I have to say."

<       2

© 2010 The Washington Post Company