Armed with photo of slain daughter, mom pushes for change

AP News
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Posted: Apr 01, 2016 12:19 PM
Armed with photo of slain daughter, mom pushes for change

WASHINGTON (AP) — The photo is jarring: a teenage girl lying on a slab, her chest sliced open exposing bone and blood. There's a gaping wound in the left side of her head. It's hard to look at, but Nardyne Jefferies has made it her mission since her daughter was killed in a drive-by shooting to make sure Americans — especially politicians — are forced to see exactly what gun violence does.

Brishell Jones was 16 when she and several other teenagers were standing on a street corner in Washington, D.C., after attending a funeral for a friend who was killed over a missing bracelet. It was March 30, 2010, and in the years since, Jefferies has taken the picture to countless rallies, to meetings with members of Congress, to city council hearings.

The reaction she gets "is not a good one. The politicians cringe," she said. Some instinctively look away. "I say, no, don't look away. You need to see what was done to my daughter ... I want you to see what happens right here in the nation's capital."

Jefferies, 46, bristles at being called a gun-control advocate. She said she believes in the Constitutional right to bear arms and doesn't consider this a gun-control debate. She's in a motorcycle club that includes friends who are NRA-certified firearms instructors. She believes the cause is about better regulating guns and ensuring that the people who own them are responsible.

What she wants is universal background checks, including at gun shows and in private sales between individuals. She wants tighter limits on high-powered automatic weapons, such as the AK-47 that was used to shoot her daughter and three other teens that night.

Jefferies' effort evokes the 1950s actions of the mother of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy lynched in Mississippi for flirting with a white woman. She insisted that her son's casket be kept open, proclaiming "I just wanted the world to see what they did to my baby." Showing the autopsy photo also takes a page from opponents of abortion rights who have shown images of aborted fetuses.

Washington's police chief, Cathy Lanier, who has grown close to Jefferies, said showing the photo is something she can identify with as someone who sees firsthand the toll of gun violence.

"The horror that we see and the horror that Nardyne saw that day ... her point is one that resonates with me," Lanier said. "That is the shocking reality that I think the average person doesn't realize until she shocks them with that photo."

Among Jefferies' biggest supporters is another mother who lost a daughter to gun violence — Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was among the 12 killed in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting. Phillips can't bear to view the autopsy photos that were taken of her daughter. She was among Aurora victims' relatives who pushed the court to seal them so they wouldn't show up on the Internet.

"We knew we had to have our daughter cremated because the wounds were so bad," Phillips said, "and that's all I need to know."

Phillips, a gun owner who lives in Texas, said it's important for people to know what happens when someone is shot. She's considering having someone put together a packet for politicians, to show the full extent of her daughter's injuries.

"You say, 'Oh they were so beautiful. Oh, they were so young.' But the bottom line is when they were killed, it was horrific," Phillips said. "It's important for those who don't understand ... to see what we live with on a daily basis."

Jefferies' daughter had a promising life ahead of her. Home-schooled in her last year, Brishell had hoped to become a chef. Jefferies and her daughter bonded as they cooked meals together, texted throughout the day, traveled to Pennsylvania to see one of their favorite musicals, Phantom of the Opera.

Jefferies, a database coordinator, was working out at the gym when she got word that her daughter had been shot. She ran to the scene on South Capitol Street in southeast D.C. in her bare feet but was separated by police and yellow tape. Still not believing her daughter could be dead, she went to the hospital with Brishell's father, Lennox Jones, and saw the body for the first time.

She was wrapped up and "looked so peaceful." In a daze, reality still had not sunk in and she still assumed her daughter would survive, that somehow the doctors would be able to patch her up and save her.

As she started to unwrap the bandage around Brishell's head, hospital aides warned her. "I told them no, I need to see it." She saw that her head was partially shaved on the right side and saw a small wound. She walked around to the other side of the table and realized the left side of her head was essentially gone.

She took some iPhone photos at the hospital, and insisted on being allowed to take more at the mortuary. Her decision to do that was nearly immediate, she said.

"I said that night, right on that street, I said, 'You know, Brishell, your death will not be in vain. They will have to see what was done to you,'" Jefferies said.

The years since have been a whirlwind of advocacy. At home, though, she still keeps reminders of Brishell everywhere. Her daughter's room still has clothes in the closet and dresser.

Jefferies has usually marked the anniversary of her daughter's death at a candlelight vigil, but this year, she'll be in Las Vegas with those with whom she shares an awful bond: a family whose daughter was accidentally shot and killed by a friend. They've organized a 5K run in their daughter's memory on what would have been her 16th birthday.

"We're there for each other," Jefferies said.

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Follow Lisa Marie Pane on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lisamariepane. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/lisa-marie-pane