Regina Talabert was asked to the prom only a few hours before the event. But she was delighted with the surprise.
She picked her best dress from the closet, did her nails and rode in a limo to Jungle Island on Friday night. She stepped out with her date, state Rep. Kionne McGhee, and an enlargement of her daughter’s graduation photo. She was there to live out her daughter’s dream.
Noricia Talabert, a smart, friendly 17-year-old, was so excited to attend South Dade Senior High School’s prom. But in October she was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle in Florida City and died in the driver’s seat of a red Nissan Sentra.
Her mother, Regina, has been left to pick up the pieces. And one of those pieces turned out to be attending her daughter’s senior prom, wearing the same glittering necklace her daughter wore in the graduation photo.
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That morning, Talabert had texted a few friends and family, including a staffer for McGhee, about how she was “hurting to the core.”
The staffer called her hours later and sprung the news on her. He said he cleared it with the school.
“He got permission from his wife, and it was OK with my fiancé,” Talabert said.
When Talabert swept in to the vestibule before the ballroom, where the prom took place, she was met with her daughter’s beaming friends and a warm hug from the assistant principal. The called her Miss GiGi and kissed the photo of Noricia. Three hours of dancing, food and smiling later, she and McGhee headed home.
“I really enjoyed myself,” she said. “I was ready to go because my heels hurt.”
The next morning, she awoke to calls and texts. Her friend, gun-violence activist Tangela Sears, posted pictures of the event slamming Miami-Dade County Public Schools for asking Talabert and McGhee to leave.
“Damn Shame, don’t no one give a damn about our dead kids unless the cameras are rolling,” Sears wrote. “To experience this on the weekend of Mother’s Day is Embarrassing, Painful for this Mom and Totally Disrespectful to our State Rep.”
Only then did Talabert’s wonderful night turn sour.
“It really hurts me to know they wanted us to leave,” Talabert said. “We weren’t causing any problems.”
She said she feels blinded with shock.
“I don’t see why it should be a problem for me to live out her dreams,” she said. “That’s all I have is her memories.”
The post infuriated many commenters and was widely shared, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, South Dade Assistant Principal J.C. DeArmas said.
DeArmas said the school never received a call to clear the visit.
Both he and Talabert said the pair have a great relationship, and they talk often. DeArmas thought she and McGhee, along with four unidentified adults they brought, were going to remain in the vestibule during the event with the rest of the adults.
“There’s a rule — parents don’t come into the ballroom,” he said.
When the ballroom doors opened, everyone flooded in, including Talabert and McGhee. DeArmas wanted to be respectful, so he let them take pictures and dance for a while, but when McGhee asked the DJ for a shoutout announcing that Talabert was there and he was her date, DeArmas asked them to go back to the vestibule.
He said South Dade prom has a no-shoutouts policy.
“I don’t feel comfortable having this announcement made,” he said. “It’s not the right venue.”
An hour later he found them inside again, and he said Talabert was walking around to students, showing them the picture and talking about her daughter.
DeArmas said he knew the crowning was coming up, and because Noricia was a popular, well-liked girl, he was worried it would be tough for her mom to watch someone else get crowned prom queen. He pulled McGhee aside and asked them to go back to the vestibule.
He said McGhee got upset and tried to place the blame higher, but because the principal of South Dade is still in the hospital after a recent car accident, DeArmas told him, “I’m responsible for everything here.”
McGhee didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Sears said, “He felt totally disrespected. You cannot tell him to leave nowhere, especially a school where he’s in the hall of fame. It’s in his district.”
The comments on Sears’ post criticize the Miami-Dade School District and South Dade High for not supporting mothers of victims of gun violence. DeArmas said it hurts to see people say things like that.
“People are saying we have no heart, we don’t care and that’s a problem,” he said. “To work in these schools you have to have heart. You have to love what you do, otherwise why would you do it?”
Sears sees this as a double standard from the school system. She said a few years ago a student asked Dwyane Wade to the prom and when he showed up, “everybody thought that was a great thing.”
She said she wants to see more support from the community for families of victims of gun violence.
“They need to make some decisions,” she said, “on whether they’re a part of this movement or not.”