'Her light will just keep shining': After fatal shooting, mom honors daughter's life
Secoya Williams died the way she lived. She was putting other people first.
Williams was supporting a childhood friend at his musical performance when she was shot and killed outside Club Kalakutah on Indianapolis’ northwest side in February 2022. The Lafayette Square area club has been a magnet for trouble and police had responded to reports of gunfire there at least six times before Williams was killed.
Kalakutah is among a relatively few bars, clubs and event centers across the city tied to nearly 50 homicides identified by a new IndyStar investigation. Police say they're unable to shut down those bars because only the state Alcohol & Tobacco Commission has the authority to regulate businesses that sell or serve alcohol. But the IndyStar investigation found that agency's enforcement efforts have declined dramatically in recent years.
As the one-year anniversary of Williams' death approaches, the young Indianapolis woman's family continues to seek justice — but not through vengeance or retribution.
What will help most with the healing, Marilyn Johnson told IndyStar, is to preserve and build on the legacy of her daughter's indomitable spirit.
Williams turned 25 just two weeks before she died. Johnson is hoping to honor her daughter by raising money to support causes Williams was passionate about. On her daughter's 26th birthday, Johnson will host a memorial celebration Feb. 11 at Lawrence Community Park.
“If I can grant just one person a gift from Secoya that would be justice for me," Johnson said. "We have to get her name out there and let people know there is still good in the bad.”
Renaissance School memories
Williams left her mark on family members, friends, teachers and employers. Many people mourning the loss of the dynamic young woman are holding onto her memory any way they can.
Elizabeth Wagner, who taught Williams English at Renaissance School, now has a Phoenix tattoo that represents her former students lost to gun violence.
“It helped me heal a little bit,” Wagner said. "I have a beautiful piece of art on my back and it's because of her (Williams) and the light she brought into the world. She'll continue to bring beauty and joy to the world, but in different forms.”
Williams was positive and lifted up other students, encouraging them to focus on their work while at Renaissance School. It was like having a mini teacher in the classroom, Wagner said.
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Williams transferred to traditional high school for her senior year and graduated from Warren Central High School in 2015. But even after she left Renaissance School, Williams and Wagner kept in touch. Wagner was on her way to work when she learned of Williams' death. She broke down bawling.
“I am still devastated about it,” Wagner said. “I wish she was still here because I can't even tell you the things she would've done. She could've done so, so, so much and brought so much light, especially to the east side.”
Had Williams' life not been taken, Wagner said, she would have continued encouraging her peers, family and friends just like she did as a high school student.
At Jane Pauley Community Health Center, a photo of Williams smiling into the camera sits on the desk of her former boss. Williams worked as a certified medical assistant at the health center for about six months before her death.
"She is still in my heart,” said Twinkle Gujral, a practice manager at the health center. “Secoya had a lot of compassion and care in her heart. She wanted to serve and improve the overall health of every patient that came into our office.”
James Harney, her uncle, wears a hat embroidered with Williams’ name and the phrase “Rest in Heaven.” He often wears a photo button of Williams offering a toast to life at her mother’s birthday party from a few years back.
The living room at Granny’s house is also full of reminders of Williams. The woman known to others as Gloria Johnson keeps pillows with photos of her granddaughter on the couch. Poster-sized images are displayed nearby.
Johnson and her family have struggled without Williams. It’s difficult to have family dinners and game nights with a piece missing. Sometimes Johnson still thinks her daughter will come home, even though she knows she is gone.
Carrying on her legacy
Despite the powerful grief, Johnson is focused on honoring her daughter the way Secoya would have wanted: by helping other people.
“I just want to be a voice for Secoya and for good in the world,” Johnson said. “That's what she was for us. If we can change somebody's mindset or help somebody, I know she's going to be proud.”
As she continues to raise money, Johnson has a plan for scholarships to carry on Williams’ legacy. The mother plans to help families afford Christmas presents and day care. Johnson also wants to support students at Hardon Educational Institute and the two high schools her daughter attended.
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Williams’ teachers, employers and family agree the best way to remember and honor Secoya is to care for others.
“I am very excited we can make Secoya's legacy go on,” Wagner said. “The world is missing a huge light. Luckily, this way her light will just keep shining.”
A few days after the 2022 shooting in the parking lot of Club Kalakutah, two sisters were arrested in connection with Williams’ death. Arieal Smith, 24, is facing charges of murder and pointing a firearm, while Ebonie Parks, 28, was charged with assisting a criminal.
Williams’ childhood friend told police that Williams was trying to be friendly with everyone at the club on the night she was killed, according to a probable cause affidavit for Smith’s arrest. The friend is identified by only his initials in court records. He told police that Parks, his ex-girlfriend, was upset Williams was there for his performance.
As he was about to start his show, the man saw Smith take off her shoes as though she were preparing for a fight. Smith grabbed a drink and threw it at Williams before trying to punch her. Smith was kicked out of the club by security, the man told police in the probable cause affidavit.
Williams and the man followed the sisters into the parking lot. Smith rolled down the window of the sisters’ vehicle and the man heard Williams yell that Smith had a gun. Williams was backing up with her hands in the air when Smith opened the passenger door of the vehicle and shot her, the man told police.
As Williams took some of her final breaths, her concern was still for others, her mother heard from witnesses.
“She kept telling everyone she was OK with her final words,” Johnson said. “She was always looking out for everyone else.”
'She always wanted to help people'
Johnson thinks of the memories she would have made with her daughter. They were supposed to go to New York and do a photo shoot to celebrate their silver and golden birthdays.
William’s funeral had more than 400 people in attendance, including former teachers, bus drivers, church members, friends and coworkers.
“It was the single most difficult thing I've had to prepare for,” Harney said of the eulogy he gave at his niece's funeral. “I talked about grace and salvation. She always wanted to help people and I believe the single most important thing you can help people with is their salvation in Christ.”
Williams found joy in writing poetry before she was killed. Included in the program handed out at her funeral was a poem in which she wrote, “We still have work that needs to be done.”
"That line is letting our family know not to give up,” Johnson said. "Secoya will be helping somebody as long as I’m alive and even when I'm gone. We are going to continue her legacy and the work she wanted to do.”
The Secoya Williams Memorial Birthday Celebration will be held 2 to 6 p.m. Feb. 11 at the community center at Lawrence Community Park. For more information about memorial efforts, email Secoyasmemorial25@gmail.com.
Contact Jake Allen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Allen19.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Secoya Williams was killed in a fatal shooting. Her legacy lives on