D.C. police Detective Sgt. Q Wallace waded through a crowd of more than 300 people, and in each direction she turned, a new person offered her a hug of condolence and support.
Hugs were offered by her family members, Wilson High School students and graduates and fellow police officers, who gathered Thursday night at a vigil in the Saratoga neighborhood in Northeast to honor Wallace’s daughter, Jamahri Sydnor.
A single bullet ended the 17-year-old’s life as she drove a younger relative home in a white Nissan sedan through the 1400 block of Saratoga Avenue NE about 3:30 p.m. Aug. 10.
“Jamahri was a good girl,” Wallace said. “She was perfect. She was smart, she was articulate. She was going places,” Wallace told reporters and the crowd moments before a candlelight vigil near the scene where she was fatally wounded.
“She had dreams. Somebody just shot at my baby’s head and snatched the breath out of her,” Wallace said.
Sydnor was about 10 days from enrolling as a freshman at Florida A&M University when gunfire came from two assailants who hid in bushes and emerged to fire on a group across the street. Those bullets also wounded another unintended victim, a man who was wounded in the buttocks as he walked from an apartment building.
One day after the shooting, investigators arrested Philip Carlos McDaniel, 21, of Northeast Washington and charged him with assault with intent to kill. In court records, McDaniel denied firing a gun but told detectives that he drove two men to the area about the time Sydnor was shot.
Family and close friends wore pink T-shirts that showed the pictures of a smiling teen graduating from high school or as a football and basketball cheerleader and the phrase “She is light. She is life.”
Sydnor graduated from Wilson High School, where she was captain of the cheerleading squad, sang in an award-winning jazz choir and served as a peer counselor to struggling classmates.
Members of the school choir sang a gospel song of praise and another singer gave a rendition of “Change is Gonna Come.”
As loved ones remembered the smiles she brought them, there also were many calls and prayers for justice, which were led by her father.
“We need you all’s help in finding our child’s murderer,” Jerome Sydnor, Jamahri’s father, told the crowd before he warned those responsible that they would be caught and face punishment because the crowd gathered would see to it.
“All these people out here are on our side. Dig that,” he said. In his remarks he shared that his family faced deep pain, but that he didn’t get mad until arriving at the scene of her killing.
“I’m mad too!” a man yelled from the crowd, which encircled the family.
“Everybody is mad!” another voice rang out.
Several pastors offered prayers and there was a scripture reading from Isaiah 40: 28-31, which said that the everlasting God “gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”
Wallace has spent 30 years working District streets as a D.C. police officer, including a stint as a homicide detective. She is currently investigating sexual abuse cases at the department’s youth division.
The crowd was filled with dozens of active and retired D.C. police officers, many in uniform or wearing badges around their necks.
Asst. Chief Lamar Greene said the “MPD family” was committed to closing the case and to keep working with the community to end violent acts. Police have said they believe there are at least two other suspects.
“We are going to bring closure to this case. That’s our promise to her,” Greene said in an interview. “She knows we are here for her and her family. And we are here for the duration.”
Two other officers also joined the crowd and made a powerful presentation. The Upper Darby Township police in Pennsylvania dispatched Sgt. Scott Lewis to thank Sydnor’s family for donating her liver to one of their own.
Patrol Officer Arty Erle has struggled with health issues, in part with a battle with colon cancer, and has been out of work as he awaited a liver transplant.
The family donated about a half dozen of Sydnor’s organs to patients in need. Doctors replaced Erle’s liver with Sydnor’s and two officers arrived in the District in dress blue uniforms to say thank you for the incredible gift “at a time of incredible grief and sorrow,” Lewis said.
“We just came to show our appreciation. Jammi now lives on. Arty is one of the people she has saved,” Lewis said in an interview.
After about two hours, the vigil ended with the release of pink balloons and a roar of “We love you Jammi!” Wallace filed out as she entered, with an escort by police officials and more hugs.
Her last words to reporters had been a plea to help police close the case.
“I promise you the great men and women I have worked with are not going to stop until they get the person that killed my baby.”
She asked for her baby to not be forgotten.
“Please keep her name out there,” Wallace said.