Back in 1999 my life changed. I’ll never forget it. It was the week before Christmas. My Husband and I were watching the news about a young woman who went missing a few days before. Immediately, my husband and I started praying for her safe return. My heart went out to the young lady’s family because I have a daughter about the same age and I would be devastated if something happened to her. My heart was so heavy after watching that news report. It made me think of my daughter, Dede, and my grandson. I actually had two daughters, but one died at the age of seven, so my only surviving girl was my sweetheart. Although Dede was 18 at the time, I still considered her to be my baby girl. Everyone loved her, especially her three older brothers.
Interestingly, I got a phone call from her three days before Christmas. She told me that she would bring the baby by the house to get their gifts on Christmas Eve. She had been living on her own since she was seventeen because she always had that independent streak in her. She held her own and never asked anyone for anything much to her credit. I was so excited to see my grandson because he had just turned a year old and was walking all over the place. But when my daughter arrived, she told me that she wasn’t staying at all and that she’d call me when she got home. But I didn’t hear from her. That was awfully strange. I figured she got busy.
When I returned to work after the Christmas holiday, a co-worker asked me if the authorities found the missing girl yet. I told him that I hadn’t heard anything, but that I was still praying for her safe return. All of a sudden, my son came rushing into the coffee room where I was talking to my other co-worker. He told me that Dede was in jail. My heart pounded and I shook my head in disbelief. My daughter had always been a good girl. She may have been spoiled, but I always put her in check when necessary. She had never been in any legal trouble before. I automatically assumed she got involved with her boyfriend who sold drugs and got caught up somehow. I asked him about my grandson and he said he the baby was with his paternal grandmother. He was safe. Although the news devastated me, I kept telling myself that everything would be okay.
When my husband picked me up from work, he hugged me before we got into the car. He then asked me about my day. I told him that I was fine until my son told me that my daughter had been arrested. I also told him that we needed to go find out what happened and see if we can bail her out of jail. My husband pulled the car over on the side of the road and held my hands in his.
Looking me squarely in the eyes, he asked, “Do you remember that girl who was missing?”
“Of course I do,” I replied with tears welling up in my eyes. Every time I thought of that poor girla nd her family, I just started to cry.
My husband took a deep breath and held my hands tighter. “Well, they found her. She’s dead.”
“Dede had something to do with it.”
His words felt like someone had taken an axe to my heart and chopped it in half with all of their might. I rolled the window down to take my breath because I couldn’t breathe. The trees lining the road started swirling around like images in a kaleidoscope and everything went black.
When I finally regained conscious, I was lying in my bed. My husband was sitting at the foot of the bed holding a hot cup of tea as if he knew I was going to awake at any moment. He told me that I suffered another panic attack. Oddly, I suffered the first one after I learned about the girl’s disappearance two weeks prior. That is why my son never mentioned why my daughter was in jail. He knew I’d have another panic attack. I still couldn’t believe that my Dede had anything to do with that poor girl’s disappearance or murder. Not my child.
Each day dragged painlessly into the next as I found out bits and pieces of the story. Each piece coming from my son or my husband after they had talked to Dede. I love my baby, but I couldn’t bring myself to see her in jail under these circumstances during those first few days. I know it would’ve killed me. Every night I prayed that the Lord would give me strength to go see her.
Whenever, my husband or son thought I could handle bits of information, they would spoon feed it to me, never giving me too much at one time. From what I gathered, Dede and her friend planned to scare the dead girl after they found out that she was bullying one of their friends. Dede and another girlfriend met up with the missing girl and they drove to a secluded park where Dede’s other friend was lying in wait. But when they arrived at the park, there was a group of kids waiting there, not just Dede’s friend.
The group surrounded the poor girl and started taunting her and suddenly one of the guys attacked her. All of a sudden they all started kicking, punching, and choking the girl. Dede tried to stop them, but one of the guys told her that if she helped the girl or told anyone about it, he would kill her whole family. My daughter walked away and started crying for the girl when all of a sudden she heard a loud banging noise and got splattered with blood. Dede’s friend had bashed the missing girl in the head with a brick. At this point Dede didn’t know what to do. She was in shock. All she knew was that things had gone too far.
The Lord answered my prayer and did strengthen my heart. I finally had the strength to go see Dede and talk with her. Although my baby girl was a grown woman now, I didn’t see her that way. I still saw her as the sweet innocent brown skinned girl in long ponytails. I told her that her son was okay and that we were taking good care of him. Dede smiled when I told her that. I could tell that her knowing her baby was safe made her feel so much better. She told me that she was ashamed for taking part in the initial plans because I taught her better than to follow after other people.
She admitted that she did lure the poor girl out there, but only to leave her stranded in that secluded park. That was what her friend told her initially, but she lied to Dede. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she never laid a hand upon that poor girl and that she did try to help her once she knew that things had gone too far.
Dede never had a trial. She met with the judge and her lawyer because they told her if she had gone to trial she would get a life sentence for her involvement in the crime. When all was said and done, Dede was sentenced to 45 years in prison. The 16 year-old girl who drove in the car with Dede, but stayed behind when they arrived at the park got a 20 year sentence. The girl who committed the murder is serving 90 years.
Dede has been in prison since 1999. She will turn 30 this year. My heart has been aching this entire time. My family and I have been working to get her time reduced and we’ll never give up trying or hoping. Allof the girls involved came from good homes, but it seems like no matter how hard a parent tries to raise their chidlren the right way, they never can tell what their child will do in any given situation. You can only pray that your kids will do what’s right and remember what you taught them. But in my heart of hearts, I know that my child did not kill that poor girl, she tried to help her
Although it’s been twelve years since the murder, there are still times when I blame myself for what happened. I really feel like I did something wrong. I raised Dede the best I could. I beat myself up over and over because I lost my only daughter. Yet through all of this, God really showed me the power of forgiveness. Even though Dede didn’t have a trial, the other girls did and I attended those hearings along with other family members. At one of the hearings a woman came over to where we were seated in the courtroom. I am not sure who she was, but she came over to me while I was sitting and crying with my family and our Pastor. She asked me if I was the mother of one of the accused girls and I told her that I was. She then asked me if she could hug me and I told her that it was okay. We stood there holding each other and crying. It’s as if she could understand my shame and all the pain that I was going through. I asked her for forgiveness and she told that all was forgiven. She told me that we both suffered a lost, but that everything would be alright. Shortly after that, I reached out to the family on a gospel station and let them know that I was thinking of them and continually hold them in my prayers.
I went to see Dede yesterday and it drained me emotionally. It still takes me a whole day to regroup after I go to see her, but I thank God that he has brought me a mighty long way. I am so thankful that I was able to finally share my story. I feel like a burden has been lifted in my life and could mark the beginning of healing for so many of us who were affected with this tragedy. We all lost on that fateful day.
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