From an array of dolls she has received the past few days, 23-month-old Kodi “Cocoa” Brown has chosen five, so far, to keep an eye on. Keep them safe. Make sure they behave.
“She calls them ‘my babies,’ ” said RoShann Ferguson, Kodi’s grandmother. “She gathers them up in her arms and won’t let anybody touch them.”
Many of the dolls — and lots of other gifts — came from concerned readers who wanted to help the girl cope with tragedy. In a column last week, I recounted that Kodi had been in her mother’s arms, about to board a Metro bus in Southeast Washington on Dec. 9, when her father pulled a gun and shot both of them. The mother, Selina Brown, 20, was killed. One of the bullets raked across Kodi’s face, leaving a ragged, S-shaped wound that cut under one eye and over the other.
This past weekend, Kodi saw herself in a mirror for the first time since being released from Children’s National Medical Center. She became alarmed and started picking at the wound, as if trying to remove the scar by hand.
“The plastic surgeons want to wait another six weeks to see what’s up with the left eye, if the vision will return to normal,” said Derrick Ferguson, Kodi’s grandfather. “We just keep telling her, ‘You’re beautiful. You’re a beautiful little girl.’ We try to keep her away from mirrors for now.”
The dolls help, occupying her time and thoughts. Kodi doesn’t play with them so much as bring them to life, infusing them with human qualities that reveal much about her own emotional needs.
“Sometimes, she’ll get angry with the dolls and start hitting them,” said RoShann Ferguson, who works as a home health aide. “After a while, I realized that she was imitating what happened between her mother and father. I tell her, ‘Be nice. You don’t have to hit the babies.’ ”
Several therapists have offered to work with Kodi, and the Fergusons are wrestling with how to pick the right one. “Our greatest worry right now is her psychological well-being,” RoShann Ferguson said. “But the truth is, given what we are going through, our whole family needs therapy.”
There is a video recording, taken from inside the bus that shows Selina Brown holding Kodi on the bus steps while the father, Javon S. Foster, 27, yells at them from just a few feet away. Kodi is looking at her father when he pulls the gun. After the shooting, Foster fled to New York and committed suicide.
As the Fergusons looked through family photographs in preparation for Selina’s funeral, which was held Friday, Kodi saw one with her mother and father together.
“She said, ‘Mommy!’ ” Derrick Ferguson recalled. “I said, ‘Who else?’ She wouldn’t answer, like there was no one else.”
Kodi then went to play with her dolls, Ferguson recalled, but not in a way he’d never seen before.
“She made them all kiss each other and told them to be nice,” he said. “She wanted everybody to get along.”
By day, Kodi seems to be recovering. She still loves the Disney Channel (Mickey and Minnie Mouse are her favorites), although she now watches TV with her head tilted sideways because of the damage to her eye. Come bedtime, though, she hardly sleeps, mostly nods off for about an hour and then starts screaming for her mother.
“It’s tough when she asks for her mother and I can’t do anything about it,” Derrick Ferguson said.
The outpouring of sympathy and support from readers has helped immensely, he said. In the column, I relayed the Ferguson family’s hope of starting a college fund for Kodi and providing her with as merry a Christmas as possible. He hadn’t expected much to come of it.
“I was thinking people were desensitized to violence here,” said Ferguson, a D.C. police officer for 16 years. By Christmas, however, his living room was filled with gifts from people throughout the Washington area and beyond. And his thinking had changed.
“The letters . . . it’s so heart touching to read,” he said, the tough cop pausing as words began to catch in his throat. “Thank all the guardian angels on this earth who have surrounded our family with love.”
Kodi had carried one of her dolls to the funeral. It was the first time she had seen her mother since the shooting.
After looking into the casket, Kodi said, “Mommy’s sleeping.” Back in her pew, she cradled the doll and let her baby rest, too.
For previous columns by Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.