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

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010; B01

In the month since her 16-year-old daughter's death, Nardyne Jefferies won't stop -- or can't stop. She's everywhere in a frenzy -- testifying before the D.C. Council, meeting with civic leaders, fuming at a court hearing last week for one of the men she holds responsible for her pain. She hasn't even had time to put away the cosmetics bag that has been on her living room table since the day she did her daughter's makeup for her funeral.

When she stops, she thinks -- of her only child's cold body at the hospital, wrapped up tight in a shroud. Of the hysterical phone call that came from one of her daughter's friends at the crime scene: "Brishell's dead. Everyone around me is dead."

She turns the key in the lock of her Southwest townhouse, and there's no one there. It's as silent as a tomb.

"I keep looking at the phone, and there are no calls from her. I can't call her. There are no text messages from her. I have to go through the old ones," Jefferies said this week. One read, "I looovvvvve you Mommy."

In the weeks since three teenagers were gunned down in a drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street SE on March 30 -- part of one of the worst mass killings in the District in years -- Jefferies has become the most public face of the tragedy.

Jefferies, a 40-year-old database coordinator, was an imposing, outspoken woman before Brishell's death. Now, she's even more so.

Her grief has unfurled on the public stage, as she decries the criminals, the police and the media while the cameras roll. On Thursday, she was front-and-center once again at D.C. Superior Court, lamenting the fact that one of the suspects was pleading guilty to five counts of second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder. In a dramatic moment in front of the council April 19, she held up a picture of her daughter's body, ringed with a necklace of bloody flesh.

"You feel, when you lay your child to rest, it's over. It's not. It's just beginning for me," Jefferies said. "I don't know what I am." Except: "I'm mad as hell."

Although there are other parents of slain children in the District -- 13 juveniles were killed in the city last year, police said -- Jefferies's loss has moved many. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier says that since the shootings, she "can't get Nardyne off my mind."

Jefferies had raised her daughter -- a sweet girl who loved to cook and aspired to be a chef -- as a single parent, so cautious about safety she schooled her at home the last year of her life.

"I feel an incredible connection with her," the chief said. "She did everything in her power to protect her daughter -- to the extreme. She home-schooled her. In my opinion, she is the perfect role model."

Lanier has tried to comfort Jefferies with reassuring text messages, enduring her angry rants and even driving by her house to check on her. Lanier said Jefferies's close relationship with Brishell reminds her of her relationship with her own mother, Helen, 70, who lives with her.

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."

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