My Baby Made the Ultimate Sacrifice to Save Her Baby’s Life

Monique and her son, Jayden.
Monique and her son, Jayden.

My youngest daughter, Monique, was everything a mother could wish for: tall and beautiful, but also humorous, determined, tenacious, loyal, and compassionate. Perhaps what I loved about her most was that she operated “outside of the box.”  When Monique made up her mind to do something, she did it. And she epitomized courage. Some people believe that having courage means simply to be fearless, but, to me, courage means you accept that some things are more important than fear. That’s exactly the kind of courage Monique had on December 14, 2010.

It was the holiday season so Monique decided to take her 2-year-old son, Jayden, to get their annual Christmas portrait taken together at a local strip mall. Monique was buckling Jayden into his car seat when, out of the blue, a gunfight broke out between three rival gangs in the parking lot. More than 30 bullets were fired from a variety of high-powered guns, including an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle. When the smoke cleared, my innocent daughter lay dying on top of her young son—her heart pierced by a single bullet. According to the police, had she not thrown herself on top of Jayden, she most likely would be alive and he would have been shot instead. My baby made the ultimate sacrifice to save her baby’s life.

I was in a state of disbelief when I got the call from my son that something had happened to Monique. I remember sitting on my couch, engulfed in darkness, waiting for an update when I heard a knock at the door. Reporters were flashing cameras in my face and telling me how sorry they were for my “loss.” My heart started beating out of my chest and I ended up in the hospital. My baby lay dead in the parking lot of a strip mall, and I could not get to her. Images of her lifeless body on TV are permanently imprinted in my mind.

I get so frustrated when people say Monique “was at the wrong place at the wrong time.” It was daytime, and she was not in a high-crime area. Monique and her son were doing what Americans should be able to do without the fear of being gunned down. She could have never predicted nor avoided the horrible fate that awaited her.  

Painting of Monique and Jayden courtesy of Randall Williams.
Painting of Monique and Jayden courtesy of Randall Williams.

The truth is, gun violence does not discriminate. It can happen at any time, any place. 

Immediately after Monique’s violent death, I found myself spiraling into a black hole of grief—an unimaginable place. I thought one way out would be to focus my energies on the task of raising my precious grandson. But that was pulled out from under me when Jayden’s father sought custody of him.

My spiral into unabated heartache only deepened, and then my faith in God left me. What do you do when your faith does not hold up against the grief of losing a child in such a senseless way? At that point, I was just part of the walking dead, going through the motions of life, but not truly living.  

It took about five years for me to emerge from my depression over Monique’s death. Eventually, I decided to find a way to channel my pain and anger and turn it into something good.

I joined the Everytown Survivor Network where I met other survivors of gun violence who are working on common-sense solutions to end gun violence. It wasn’t long after that I realized this is exactly what I need. I need people. I need to belong to a group with whom I share common goals and who want to take action. I’ve found that with Everytown.

Deborah Nelson (left) and her daughter, Monique.
Deborah Nelson (left) and her daughter, Monique.

Today, I’m keeping Monique’s memory alive by sharing her story and fighting in her name. I will never accept that she was just in “the wrong place at the wrong time,” and neither should anyone else who has had a loved one taken in such a senseless and preventable way.

One day, I hope my grandson will fully understand how much his mother loved him and how much she was loved by others. For him and for future generations, I will never stop fighting for an America free from gun violence.

This piece is by Deborah Nelson, a California member of the Everytown Survivor Network. If you have been personally affected by gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email facesofcourage@momsdemandaction.org.