By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 11:00 PM
As night approached and the evening turned cold, Caroline Frazier began her grim routine of passing out stacks of fliers with "Missing" printed across the top. A picture of her smiling daughter Latisha Frazier, 19, beamed across each page.
"Excuse me!" Frazier said as she ran from the curb at the Anacostia Metro station to a car stopped at a red light. The window opened. "My daughter's missing," she said. "Please take this. She's been missing since August."
In her daughter's absence, the 48-year-old Frazier's days looked like this: Take Diamond, Latisha's 3-year-old daughter, to day care. Work with the police. Hand out fliers. Put Diamond to bed. She balanced it all while being homeless and unemployed.
On Sunday, police said her daughter had been killed after a dispute in the 1700 block of Trenton Place in Southeast Washington on Aug. 2. Her body has not been found, officers said.
Police arrested Brian Gaither, 23, of Southeast and charged him with second-degree murder. He will be arraigned Monday.
Latisha's father, Barry Campbell, was often by Frazier's side as she handed out fliers. He said he knew this day might come.
"It does feel good to know someone has been arrested, that someone will be punished," said Campbell, 39, a Metro employee. "I knew this wasn't my daughter to just up and leave and leave Diamond. I think we all knew that something terrible had happened."
A police official said authorities will mount an exhaustive search for Latisha's remains.
For months, police turned up few leads. Then, to add to the family's grief, the Fraziers began receiving threatening messages on Facebook, from an unknown account, saying that Latisha was dead and that her remains were in Rock Creek Park.
"My heart goes out to the family of Latisha Frazier for their loss," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said in a statement. "The community providing information to police and press coverage about Latisha's disappearance were essential to us closing this case."
Latisha was responsible and hard-working, her mother said: The teenager was never was out of touch with Frazier or Diamond for more than 24 hours.
So Frazier knew something was wrong when Latisha hadn't responded to a few phone calls and a raft of text messages.
Just a day before her disappearance, Latisha, whom the family nicknamed "Lil Pooh," had organized a small family gathering at Chuck E. Cheese's, Diamond's favorite playtime restaurant. It was a Sunday, and everything seemed fine.
Latisha was working full time at a McDonald's in Oxon Hill. A graduate of Crossland High School, she was contemplating going to college.
She was enjoying Diamond's early years, and, from what her family could tell, there was no hint that she was in trouble.
"She was just being herself," her mother said of the gathering at Chuck E. Cheese's. "She was happy she was with Diamond, and she was playing with everybody."
Family members can recall every moment, every text they sent Latisha in the weeks after she disappeared.
They sent her messages through Facebook, as well.
The posts' themes were often similar: Are you okay? If there's a problem, we can work it out. Please let us know where you are.
"I keep wondering to myself: Was there something I missed?" a tearful Latoya Frazier, 23, one of Latisha's sisters, said about the mystery of those first days and weeks. "Was she in danger? Was she unhappy? It just doesn't make any sense, because she would never leave her daughter. They were attached at the hip."
All the while, Caroline Frazier sought to get community support: A nearby church community helped distribute fliers. In the fall, a small brigade of supporters canvassed the neighborhood near Mount View Place SE and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia, where Latisha was last seen. The group knocked on doors, talked to people in stores, tacked fliers to trees.
Extended-family members chipped in to help Caroline Frazier make copies of the fliers. In October, the family celebrated Latisha's birthday, putting pictures of her up around a relative's home and festooning a cake with candles.
It was the only thing the Fraziers knew to do. Family members said they quietly prayed to themselves that Latisha would walk though the doors.
But it was during the twice-weekly routine of passing out the fliers that the family came together the most in its search. That frigid evening in front of the Anacostia Metro station, Frazier was joined by Campbell, her brother, her sister-in-law and a niece.
At the end of the evening, when they couldn't take the cold anymore, they formed a circle and prayed.
"Lord, please bring back our daughter, our niece, our cousin, Latisha," James Frazier said as wind whipped around the group. "We miss her."
Caroline Frazier lives in temporary housing off Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast. The city provides a two-bedroom apartment. Before that, Frazier and her family lived in the city's homeless shelter at D.C. General for nearly two years.
Her energy has been focused on Diamond, a precocious child who asks for her mother nightly and has trouble sleeping.
Once laid-back and pleasant, Diamond is now defiant and difficult at times, teachers and social workers said.
The transformation goes beyond what the social workers said they think is a normal personality change for her age. Many of the behavioral changes - tantrums when she doesn't get her way, for instance - started in the weeks and months after Latisha's disappearance.
"She knows that's something wrong," Frazier said as they watched television one recent afternoon. "It's really in the evening time when she notices. That's when 'Tisha was always with her, so that's what she's missing now."
The teachers and social workers at Bright Beginnings, the Head Start program that Diamond attends, have become so concerned that they've recommended that Diamond be evaluated by a child psychologist and developmental specialist.
"She's a totally different child than she was just last summer, in terms of her temper and acting out," said Emma Kupferman, a social worker who works with the Fraziers at Bright Beginnings. "Even if she doesn't know everything or can't comprehend everything, she knows that something is wrong."
On a recent afternoon, as the Fraziers completed a long 24 hours of talking with police about the Facebook threats, a report came on local TV news about the family's struggle. Pictures of Latisha flashed from the screen. As soon as the report ended, Diamond stood up in her chair and pointed.
"That was my mommy on television," the child said. "That was my mommy smiling."