On the morning of March 30, 2010 my daughter, Brishell, and two of her best friends went to the funeral of a young man they knew. Just as I was leaving the house to go to work, Brishell said, “before you say anything, I’m going to clean my room when I get home.” She knew I was meticulous and liked the house organized. I smiled, and said okay. She kissed me on the cheek and said goodbye.
I spent the rest of the day at the office, trying to quell the growing uneasiness in my stomach that had started the night before. I was worried about Brishell. I did not know the young man whose funeral she was attending that day, and I made it a habit to know all of Brishell’s friends. I was worried something might happen at the funeral, but my darkest fears were nothing compared to the events that would unfold that afternoon.
Finally I looked at the clock to find it was 5:30pm, signaling the end of the day. By that time, I knew Brishell was home from the funeral, so I felt comfortable leaving her at home for an hour while I went to workout with a friend. My neighbors all watched out for her when I was out which was extremely important to me as a single mother.
When I got to the gym, Brishell called and asked if she could take a backpack over to a friend who had left it at our house. At first I said no—the uneasiness in my stomach had spiked when she called. But she insisted, “oh mommy you treat me like a child, come on.” So I relented and told her, “okay, go, but no chit-chatting. You drop off the backpack, and you go straight home. Don’t be on the phone. Pay attention to your surroundings.” She said, “okay, I love you.” I told her, “I love you, too.” That was the last time I spoke to my daughter.
For the next 30 minutes of my workout, I could not focus. I told my friend that I was going home—that I thought Brishell needed me. Just as I was dialing Brishell’s phone, my friend’s phone rang—it was her daughter who was with Brishell. She looked horrified, and just kept saying, “What? What?” I snatched the phone from her and heard her daughter, a friend of Brishell’s, screaming on the other line, “Everyone’s dead!”
I asked her, “Where is Brishell?”
“Brishell is dead,” she said.
I lost it. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I ran outside, got into my friend’s car and we started driving. By the time we got to the scene, there were paramedics, fire trucks, and police cars. As soon as we stopped, I ran straight through the yellow tape. A police officer grabbed me, and then two others grabbed ahold of me as well—I was like a mad woman, yelling, “I need to get to my daughter!” When the chief of police arrived, she came over to explain the situation to me because we knew each other. She told me that Brishell was okay, that nine people had been shot, but Brishell was okay.
I started to calm down, but then the ambulances began to leave the scene, and I couldn’t stop thinking, “How can she be in the ambulance if I’m out here? I have her insurance card.” I turned to my friend who was talking with her daughter. I grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and demanded she tell me what had happened to Brishell. She said Brishell had been shot in the head.
It wasn’t until hours later that I would finally learn the truth. I spent that time pacing outside, on and off of the metro bus where the police had suggested I wait. I was angry, confused, anxious, and helpless. Finally, the chief of police approached me, accompanied by a man who introduced himself as a homicide detective. The detective told me Brishell had been killed. I started screaming at the chief, “I asked you to tell me the truth! I asked you!” I collapsed on the ground.
When I arrived at police headquarters, I didn’t know how to tell her father or my family. I could not bear the thought of telling my parents that their only granddaughter had been killed. I was completely heartbroken and just cried. There were moments when I didn’t believe I would survive that night—the pain was just too great. Finally, I mustered up the strength to call her father and my parents. Neither could comprehend what I told them.
I couldn’t comprehend it either. I couldn’t believe that my daughter was dead. Everyone was rushed to the hospital, family and friends. After the doctor confirmed what I would not let myself believe, I told him I wanted to see her. He tried to dissuade me, but I insisted. They took Brishell’s father and me back to see her. The room was cold and sterile, and Brishell was lying on the table, wrapped up like a mummy. I thought to myself, “How pretty she looks. She looks so peaceful. She can’t be dead. She looks like my beautiful little girl. She’s just sleeping. She doesn’t look like the other victims, she can’t be dead.”
I started to unravel the white bandages around her head, convinced that if I could just find the wound, I could fix it. Finally, I could see the bullet hole on the right side of her temple. I nearly fainted, but I told myself, “It’s okay, it’s a little hole. We can fix this.” As I continued unwrapping the bandages, I heard a thump, and I looked up to see my ex-husband’s horrified reaction. He was standing on the other side of her body, so I walked over to see what had shocked him. The left side of Brishell’s head had fallen off. That was the thump. That was why they had her wrapped up. She was really dead.
When I left the room, I told my parents that no one else was allowed to go back to see her. I didn’t want anyone else to have that image burning in their head for the rest of their lives. I didn’t want them to remember Brishell like that. I spent the night calling friends and family to deliver the news. I stayed up all night. I began planning her funeral. I did what I had to do.
I share Brishell’s story because it’s something else I have to do. Being a mother was the best job I ever had, and that doesn’t stop just because Brishell is gone. The night she was murdered, I promised her that I would not let her death be in vain. I would not let her story be swept under the rug. So often gun violence is associated with people of color as if it’s something we should be “used to” by now. But in the end, we all breathe the same air, we all spill the same red blood.
Brishell was the light of my life. She had a mother and father who loved her immensely, a family who adored her, and friends who looked up to her. She was bubbly and loving, positive and generous. She grew up with everything she needed, and she gave to everyone she could. Brishell looked up to me. She always told me that I was her inspiration, her role model. We had a bond unlike any other.
But the media never saw our family like that, and I knew they would twist her story into the narrative they wanted—that of a black single mother, a father outside of the home, a daughter who was not raised properly. But that was not Brishell’s story, and I will keep fighting to make sure her real story is heard.
This piece is by Nardyne Jefferies. If you or anyone you know has been personally affected by gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email [email protected]