FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was originally published in the Miami Herald on July 30, 2006
As soon as he hangs up the phone at his security job, David Jenkins wills himself the three long blocks to the Doral bus stop, past the gas station that brews his favorite coffee, past the cows grazing in a corner pasture, past the Wendy's and the bank. If only he can move fast enough, he thinks. If only the No. 41 bus is on time. If only his mother can meet him and drive him those last unbearable blocks to his apartment in Liberty City. If only the police will not stop him at the ghastly yellow tape, will believe him when he says she is his, this child with the bullet hole in her neck is his 9-year-old daughter, maybe, oh God, he can save her.
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But time, circumstances and the disorderly nature of a particular moment and a particular place conspire against him.
Instead, Sherdavia Lamara Alecia Martha Jenkins, who would have started fourth grade next month, was struck down by a bullet while playing on her front stoop - a concrete slab, really, no hint of the grace of a real porch.
She died hideously, in front of her sister, brother and a best friend, playing in an open space between two buildings that police say became a shooting gallery for a small- time drug peddler and a street tough.
"My baby should not be dead, " says Jenkins, 33.
It was just before 3 p.m. Saturday, July 1, playtime in most households and for now, this family's saddest hour. Sherdavia slumped over, then crawled into her house. "My baby came in here like a wounded animal, " Sherrone Jenkins, her 37-year-old mother, would sputter in anger. Sherdavia died just inside the front door, her blood spilling across 16 cold, white tiles in the den where she used to watch SpongeBob SquarePants.
It took David Jenkins an hour and a half to get to 1242 NW 65th Ter., the squat, dull-green, concrete-block apartment in the Liberty Square public housing project, its name now devolved into something more helpless and mean: Pork 'N Beans.
Everybody was too late.
Today, just 15 days before Sherdavia would have reported to Lillie C. Evans Elementary School, she rests in a white lace dress in a tiny white casket at Dade Memorial Park. Her plot with its small marker is surrounded by the graves of people who died as adults, who lived 50, 60, 70 years. Sherdavia is buried off a winding road, in a section called Serenity Park, "a real nice place where they won't mess with her, " says David Jenkins.
He visited last week for the first time. His wife stayed home alone watching 1980s music videos, still too shaken to leave the house.
"I should not be talking to the ground, and my daughter should not be here, " Jenkins says quietly. "People bring flowers to grave sites. I refuse because I gave Shay flowers when she was alive."
Answering the call of a multitude of leaders, religious and otherwise, the community vowed to take Miami back from the clutches of violence. The last weeks have been dotted with vigils, services and a higher police profile.
But to understand how a 9-year-old who loved video games and dreamed of becoming a Web designer is killed is to understand the lethal interweave that links poverty, drugs, crime, stupidity, arrogance, unchecked machismo and loaded guns.
None of which helps the Jenkinses make sense of that Saturday afternoon or the hell thereafter. From the moment Sherdavia died, David and Sherrone Jenkins have agonized - he from the guilt of not being there to save her; she from the guilt of being there but unable to keep her child alive. The burden has taken a tremendous toll on their marriage, which was already troubled. David comes home smelling of liquor. Sherrone curses, fusses and frets.
Still, they hold on to each other, tethered by love and pain and anger.
David Jenkins likes to tell himself that Sherdavia did not die in vain. Deep down, he knows that she won't be Miami's last child to die before reaching puberty or the last young victim of an inexplicable shootout. And that Saturday will not be the last time police come to Liberty Square, once one of the most dangerous public housing projects in the country.
Still, this man of faith believes that something - something small and good, like his daughter - will come out of this. For now, he just wants his family to heal. He wants his big-man appetite back. He wants his wife to sleep, to feel safe enough to leave the house. He wants the anger of his oldest stepchildren, Sheronda and Daryel, to melt, and the fears of his youngest daughter, Catherine, to go away, and he wants his 4-year-old son, David Jr., to stop asking God to wake Shay up.
"I live so much of my life to go to sleep. I don't sleep well, but when I do, Shay is still alive, " he says, a week after burying her. "She is still there when I get home. Still calling me Daddy and begging to play video games. There sleeping in her bed when I pass by the room. When I dream, she is still alive." CHAPTER TWO AT SUMMER CAMP, 'A JOY TO BE AROUND'
On June 21, the first day of summer camp, Sherdavia sat in the front row, right in front of her teacher. Mrs. Maddox had known the Jenkins sisters - Sherdavia and Catherine, 8 - for much of their lives. She knew they were good, polite kids.
One of the children's first assignments was to create a summer journal. For the cover of hers, Sherdavia picked a bright fuchsia. It was the morning after the Miami Heat won the NBA Finals, so the front reads: "Go Heat, Go, Win the Game, by Sherdavia Jenkins."
In the first entry, she writes, "I got a little nurvuse [sic] then I got happy, because most of my friends from last year summer camp! [sic] When I saw them, I thought it was going to be OK."
Sherdavia was a camper for only a week. She wrote only seven entries in her journal. She played with her best friends - Sachin, Larry, Princess and Lakevia - for only seven summer afternoons.
On the third day, the camp celebrated the Heat victory by having a basketball tournament. Sherdavia was the only girl who played.
And on her last day at camp, the class watched the movie Home Alone. The day before, the children had decided to bring in snacks. Sherrone Jenkins sent 17 vanilla pudding cups, enough for everybody in the class.
Betty Maddox remembers that Sherdavia was the only child that day who remembered to say "thank you" as the snacks and drinks were passed out.
"She was just a joy to be around, " says Maddox, who also works at the elementary school. "You have never met such a happy child. She loved to play and be with her friends and laugh."
On the Monday after Sherdavia died, Maddox sat staring at the empty front chair of her room. The summer campers were quiet, each child trying to absorb the loss.
CHAPTER THREE: A GIFTED CHILD WITH LOFTY PROSPECTS
Sherdavia was gifted, tall, stubborn. She favored beads over bows, sometimes bit her nails, loved pickles and loved bubble gum bought from the candy lady. She carried her cat, Miss Lion, around the house like a baby and fed her with spoons. In the days after her death, Miss Lion, adopted from the Humane Society two years ago, slept on her pillow.
Sherdavia was supposed to grow up to be a Web designer or an artist whose works "would be put in museums and sell for lots of money, " she told grandma Shirley Williams in their last conversation on the way to camp.
Either way, she was supposed to grow up and out of Liberty Square.
Her parents believe they primed her for greatness well before she was born.
Nearly 10 Octobers ago, David and Sherrone, four months full of baby, were slow-dancing in the den of his old Opa-locka apartment. The air in the tiny living room was thick with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' Oh What a Night; this is the song David still sings to Sherrone to make her smile. There wasn't much room, but the couple, wowed by the wonder of their first child together, held tight, swaying.
Sherrone had two older children - Sheronda, then 7, and Daryel, 6. David also had a 3-year-old daughter, Nikki. They got to talking about the right name for their girl, who would arrive five years after they had met and a year before they married at the Joseph Caleb Center, where Sherdavia's funeral would be held. The couple wanted something that symbolized hard work and a bright future, a name that could withstand the taunts of schoolchildren.
So they took chunks of both of their names, these two people who hadn't done so badly for themselves, and came up with Sherdavia. They were pleased: It was different, and fancy enough to carry her dreams.
Sherdavia was born Saturday, March 22, 1997, a week late.
And from the very beginning, Sherdavia was special. Her parents boasted that she walked at 7 months, talked at 11 months and was potty-trained by age 1 - this would later become the third sentence of her funeral-home obituary.
Sherdavia, with her almost formal lilt, easy smile and quiet ways, dazzled the teachers. By kindergarten, she was a member of the chess club and had won several tournaments. She would later join the art club.
Sherdavia was an A student and earned the highest FCAT score at her school last year. She had a perfect math score. Her achievements took up eight pages in her commemorative program. Just the other day, Sherrone Jenkins found a picture of Sherdavia standing proudly with WFOR-CBS 4 news anchor Jennifer Santiago at an art fair. Jenkins says: "She was a very quiet little girl, but there wasn't much she couldn't do. I stayed on her about getting good grades."
Sherdavia could draw cartoon characters from the shows on Nickelodeon. She was a great professional-wrestling connoisseur, giggling at the bombastic hijinks of Shawn Michaels and D-Generation X. But mostly, she liked to sit in the back room of her house, under a small window with security bars, and play video games.
"Sherdavia would hurry up and eat her dinner, then say, 'Dad, mom, can I go fry my brain?' " David Jenkins recalls through tears.
She also loved the meat-lover's pizza at a Liberty City eatery called Benettes so much that her father programmed the number into his cellphone.
When it was playtime, she concocted a plan to stay indoors:
"She didn't like dresses, " says Sherrone Jenkins. "She wouldn't wear them until it was time to go outside. She would put the dresses on because she knew I wouldn't let her play outside in her good clothes."
On one of those days last year when the plan didn't work, Sherdavia was outside and met her new next-door neighbor, a 10-year-old girl. They became buddies, racing, making mud pies, sharing hot sausages. They were together when Sherdavia was killed.
"I miss her so much, " the girl says. "We used to play hide and go seek. I think about her, and my hand shakes."
When it was time to go to bed, Sherdavia and Catherine would head toward the room they shared. Playtime was just beginning.
Sherdavia would read The Three Bears, softly, the words lit by a flashlight. She would sing songs and play Mr. Rabbit until her sister fell asleep.
"She was so nice, and we had a lot of fun, " Catherine says softly. "I miss her."
CHAPTER FOUR: PLAYTIME INTERRUPTED, WITH A DEADLY OUTCOME
Sherdavia, Catherine and David Jr. had just gone outside to play, mostly to escape their chores. Sherrone was inside mopping and talking on the phone with David, who was at work.
Then pow, pow, pow. Pause. Pow. Sudden, quick and mean, the bullets sliced through the sing-song of play.
"I thought it was firecrackers; you can't tell the sounds apart, " Sherrone says. "People around here had been shooting them and celebrating since mid-June. I thought they were just getting ready for the Fourth, until I heard the screams."
Sherdavia, sitting on the left edge of the stoop, was shot. Her sister, her brother and a best friend ran inside.
"I kept calling to her from inside my door, " says the 10-year-old neighbor. "I couldn't see Shay because of all the smoke. I didn't know what to do, so I just bent down and locked the gate."
Next door, Sherdavia was dying just inside her front door. With the help of the police dispatcher, Sherrone Jenkins worked frantically to stop the bleeding with a towel. She also tried to perform CPR.
Recalling the characters on "those doctor shows, " she ordered her older son, Daryel Pettie, 14, to work on restoring his sister's flickering pulse.
He balled his fists and pounded on Sherdavia's chest. Sherrone counted the cadence. But Sherdavia's pulse never got stronger. And the blood never stopped.
CHAPTER FIVE: COMMUNITY SHOCKED, AND A CHILD IS BURIED
David and Sherrone couldn't afford to give Sherdavia a proper burial. He makes about $300 every two weeks; she makes less as a school aftercare worker. The services cost $4,800, but the community, horrified by her death, helped.
Sherrone, slight of build, wore all black, "something traditional and respectful." She picked a mesh black hat with six bows that dipped in front just enough to veil tears. David wore a black pinstripe suit with handsome slip-ons.
Next door, the 10-year-old girl picked out a white dress and black church shoes. She wore white bows pinned delicately to her braids. Scared, she had been staying with a relative across town but came back just for the funeral.
At the cemetery, someone else was being honored with a 21-gun salute. At the first blast, the two youngest children, Catherine and David Jr., flinched and ducked.
CHAPTER SIX: FAMILY TRIES TO COPE WITH CRUSHING LOSS
In the days following the funeral, David and Sherrone Jenkins clung to each other, laughing about the funny things Sherdavia used to say, crying because there would be no new memories.
One day, they watched karaoke on TV, singing the lyrics of the singing group America's Horse With No Name.
For the moment, it felt like the day before Sherdavia died, calm and hopeful and uneventful. Except for the quiet. They had already sent the four other children to live with Sherrone's mother in North Miami-Dade County.
The killers were still loose, and the couple were afraid.
David and Sherrone phoned each other constantly. They bought two more cellphones so they would never be out of contact. Each needed to know where the other was, what time they would see each other, what was the latest on the police investigation.
On Thursday, police charged two men with second-degree murder in the death of Sherdavia.
In the weeks after the funeral, the mourning manifested itself differently. David and Sherrone Jenkins argued, cried, slammed doors, screamed, slept off liquor and sat in silence. He pored over the tiniest details of Sherdavia's life, venting in preacheresque and sometimes dark rants. He spent an awful lot of time trying to quell thoughts of vigilantism. Sherrone said little, turning all that turmoil inward.
Sherdavia's death exposed fault lines in the marriage. The family is starting grief therapy, and David signed up Friday to receive counseling for his drinking.
He says: "I am not the same person I was before this."
She says: "We have grown distant."
They had been together for 14 years. He has worked mostly in security. She trained for payroll work, but hated being cooped up in an office and often did outdoor jobs.
After Sherdavia died, there were perfectly normal days, the couple working together to keep the household running - even without the other children there.
Some days, the conversations were hauntingly simple.
As David left the grave site after his first visit, he called Sherrone.
"Did they get it right?" she asked softly.
"What does it say?"
"Sherdavia L. Jenkins."
"What about the dates?"
"March 22, 1997."
"And the other date?"
"July 1, 2006."
CHAPTER SEVEN: FOR FAMILY, A NEW PLACE AWAY FROM MEMORIES
Two days after Sherdavia died, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, vowed that the Jenkins family wouldn't spend one day more than necessary at 1242 NW 65th Ter. He had known David since they were teenagers, and David used to escort Meek's mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, to the bank.
"No one should be asked to go back to the place where they have suffered that kind of tragic loss, " Kendrick Meek says.
The family had long wanted to move.
One day, early this year, the family was home - the three youngest children outside, the rest inside. Suddenly, two boys burst through the screen door, ducking a spray of bullets.
"Some boys were in back of the pink house [across the street], gambling, " says Sheronda Williams, 15, Sherrone's older daughter. "Shay, Catherine and David were outside, playing. The boys got into a fight over the money, and somebody started shooting. The kids ran inside, and the next thing you know, those boys were running inside our house. We pushed them out and slammed the door."
Last week, the family finally moved to a duplex, full of brand-new, donated furniture, 20 blocks north in a quiet neighborhood with sidewalks and trees and porches. When Catherine arrived, she tore across the lawn.
"My very own front porch, " she sang. "My very own porch."