I am an American woman. I am the Black mother of a murdered child. You do not know my name. You do not know my child’s name. I am one of countless, nameless, faceless mothers.
My 7-year-old daughter was murdered by her father. There were no warnings. There was no preceding violence in my household. Her father was a seemingly regular suburban dad, one who was disgruntled by my ask for a divorce. Unbeknownst to me, he had become a monster. He had become the man who would meet me to sign our divorce agreement after a long bitter battle, who would smile weakly to apologize for how difficult the process had been, and then go home to take our daughter’s life.
This evil happened in the confines of my baby’s bedroom; the only witnesses were the Disney princesses and fluffy stuffed animals that surrounded her. And while her murderer was convicted, New York State did not consider his premeditated act egregious enough for a first-degree murder charge, which is reserved for “special circumstances”—crimes like murdering a police officer or a witness to a crime. Murders involving “torture,” as I was told. Murdering one’s child after a divorce proceeding...is that not torture? Is it not a special circumstance? I place tremendous value on the lives of those who choose to righteously serve in law enforcement, but are their lives more important than the life of a little girl?
America has too many shameful stories like mine, stories that are both blasted on the news and whispered in the shadows. I weep over the murders of our children that we bear witness to so often in the media.
For each of these stories, there are the mothers left behind.
And for each of these stories, there are the mothers left behind. Mothers of grown men who were gunned down in the streets, or whose children’s abductions remain unsolved. There is no comparison of crimes or perpetrators or pain, just the common denominator that we all belong to a solemn club of mothers whose children were stolen. I say the names of children whose stories I do know, and I cry for the mothers of Breonna, George, Daunte, Tamir, Treyvon, and many more names than I can choke out through trembling lips and sorrow.
For every fight for justice that surrounds us in the public eye, there are countless untold stories in different zip codes around this country, injustices that will not make the cable news. These are crimes that will never be dissected by millions of internet browsers or laid out in a national newspaper. But these mothers deserve outcry, too. I am here to tell their story. I am here to say their children’s lives mattered, too. By sharing my painful story, I speak for them too.
If you have lived through the unimaginable loss of a child to violence, regardless of your child’s age, I understand your thirst for the kind of justice no sentence or financial settlement will ever quench. There is nothing “just” to be found about the heinous act that burned what you knew to the ground. Instead, you are left to find new streams in the desert and new sources of oxygen for your breath. You exist in an altered universe that most people around you will never comprehend. You somehow stumble ahead, realizing that life sometimes requires us to let go of the expectation of a fair or logical explanation.
For me, keeping her memory alive is like wielding a weapon of light despite the darkness around me
For me, survival requires that I tell my story, and my daughter’s. I see her bright eyes and infectious laugh in the children I try to reach through my nonprofit, Gabrielle’s Wings, created in her honor to empower children in underserved communities with the type of exposure and education that I can no longer give my own child. And somehow, through the past four years I have found miraculous moments of joy by sharing the beauty of my little girl’s kind spirit, her wicked sense of humor, her outreach to children who were bullied or struggling. For me, keeping her memory alive is like wielding a weapon of light despite the darkness around me. I have found in telling my story of betrayal and loss, I also affirm the silent pain or even shame of so many other mothers. When I glance to my left or right, I can feel the many grieving, unnamed women like me standing in the shadows.
In the Jewish faith, the mourner’s kaddish is a defiant prayer uttered over and over after the loss of a parent, spouse or child. It is not muttered alone. Family and friends stand in support to say it out loud for the grieving. It is said for months and months until hopefully the grieving person or family members can find the strength to make their own declaration of hope and praise, despite their pain and loss.
With steel in my veins and a defiant faith, I say a mourner’s kaddish for these mothers. I say a mourner’s kaddish for the homes and families and communities publicly or privately ripped apart with tragedy. I say a mourner’s kaddish for the lives that mattered and were lost and those who they left behind. I say the names of lost children whose names I know and hold a silent place in my heart for the many unnamed and unknown.
I, too, am an American heartbreak. I, too, am the mother of a murdered child. You did not know me. You did not know my daughter’s name. You did not know my story. But you do now.
My daughter’s name is Gabrielle.
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