At 13 years old, Florida City’s Teddra King knew the future she wanted.
“She wanted to go to college; she wanted to be a nurse,” said Leslie Bess, sister of Teddra’s mother, Lakesha Bess. “She wanted to make sure her mom and her younger siblings were well taken care of.”
Not only will Teddra never get the chance to achieve that laudatory goal, but the family she wanted to wrap up in security now must find strength to get through the days and weeks ahead.
As said often by speakers at Thursday’s candlelight vigil, Teddra’s family has one child dead and one child in jail. One of Teddra’s nine siblings, Martaevious Santiago, shot her in the head Tuesday night on his 17th birthday. Martaevious told police the tragedy had been an accident. He’s still in jail on a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child.
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And, so, with Thursday’s sunset came a neighborhood grieving over Tuesday’s sudden sunset in Teddra King’s life. About 80 people crowded the front yard and stood across the street from Teddra’s home on the corner of Northwest 16th Street and Fourth Avenue in Florida City, as some of her relatives lit candles spelling out “RIP TEDDRA.”
Across the street, against a fence separating Northwest Fourth Avenue from the South Miami-Dade Busway, friends lined up stuffed animals near a banner of “Long Live” messages. The banner streamed beneath silver balloons attached to the fence spelling out “Rosie,” Teddra’s nickname.
Cierra Lester, girlfriend of one of Teddra’s brothers, said, “Rosie was funny. If I was having a bad day, I’d come over here and Rosie would make me laugh. She really made my day.”
Stepfather Vernon Williams concurred.
“She liked to dance, make other people smile,” Williams said. “She was funny. She was very educated, too. Whatever school she went to, she was a straight-A student.”
Williams said he’s been with Lakesha Bess since Teddra was 2 and Teddra was raised by all three parents — Bess, Williams and father Ted King.
The vigil opened with a sermon to the children present by Walter Thompson, deacon of Greater St. Matthews Holiness Church (“In a few days, you’ll see a 13-year-old lying in a casket! It don’t get no realer than that!”). Then, to gospel singer Kirk Franklin’s “Happy,” siblings and relatives began lighting the candles.
At the release of the balloons, Teddra’s mother wailed, the pain gushing from deep inside. Relatives, friends and children fanned her and covered her in hugs.
That’s the kind of strength a neighbor later prayed the family would know. When she composed herself, Ted King embraced her as if she still contained a bit of his daughter’s life.