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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.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010

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.

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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.

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