A mile from each other, two women grieve.
Earlier this month, in a span of two days in Miami Gardens, Pauline Dean and Shannon Pierre lost their best friends to stray bullets.
Dean’s daughter, Alexandra, was at a house party with friends on June 4 when she was caught in crossfire. And two days later, Pierre’s husband, Bered — known as Ben — was preparing for the next stop on his delivery route in a parking lot when someone opened fire, aiming for other people and only killing him.
Both women had heard stories of families who lost loved ones to gun violence in their city. But, like most families, they never thought it would happen to them.
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“I never thought my child would be a statistic,” Dean said, shaking her head.
On Father’s Day weekend, the two women, who don’t know each other, attended viewings and funerals. Since both shootings, family and church friends have flooded their homes with food, flowers and support, but reminders still creep in.
A boxed stethoscope. Custom Father’s Day shirts. Framed photographs.
Alex will never become a nurse. Ben won’t be there for his 10th wedding anniversary trip to Puerto Rico.
“We had visions for the future,” Pierre said. “Dreams we’re never going to see through.”
Both families now have one dream: to see their loved ones again.
Alex and Ben were both surprises.
Seventeen years after her third child was born, Dean unexpectedly got pregnant. Pierre never expected she would fall in love with the man she met at South Florida Church of Christ in Davie.
For Dean, now 67, her youngest daughter was a beautiful soul who always succeeded in whatever she tried. Violin, track, and most recently, earning a nursing degree from Nova Southeastern University in May.
“She touched everything,” Dean said. Everyone she knew felt Alex’s passion and kindness. “She loved everything.”
She was amazed at what her daughter could do. She watched Alex become a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at Nova Southeastern and gave her a nursing pin during a school ceremony just weeks ago.
Even as the 23-year-old studied for her nursing bar exam scheduled later this summer, Alex talked to her mom about getting back into track and training for the Olympics, having medaled at state competitions in high school.
“For a little person, for such a short time, she did a lot,” Dean said.
In 2005, as Alex was blossoming into a teenager, Pierre was weighing whether to risk a budding friendship with a first date. But it was worth the risk — a year later, Ben proposed on the beach. She said yes.
“We had a marriage filled with laughter and fun,” said Pierre, now 33.
Each year, he tried to surprise her on her birthday, and even now, she laughs at the memory of him cheering in the hospital when they learned Pierre was having their first son.
Beyond teaching Sunday School and helping his wife coach basketball, “Big Ben” enjoyed working with people and manual labor.
That was why six months ago, he started work with American Fasteners Corp. as a delivery driver. He brought shipments of hardware as far north as West Palm Beach to customers who loved his cheerful spirit, said Manny Benitez, the company president.
“He would speak to people in Spanish, say buenos dias, say hello to everyone in the morning and always had a very cheerful, spirited attitude towards everything,” he said.
It was a typical reaction to a man who loved people, Pierre said. But more than anything, Ben loved his family and adored his wife.
“I hope everyone gets the chance to experience the love I had,” Pierre said. “It’s a rare thing.”
CELEBRATION TO TRAGEDY
June 4 was a day of celebration.
For Ben, it marked his 38th birthday and the beginning of a weekend of festivities. Red Lobster for dinner on Saturday, and his favorite home-cooked meal — chicken Alfredo with a brownie birthday dessert — on Sunday.
For Alex, it was a night just weeks after graduation when she took a break from studying for her upcoming nursing exam and spent time with the friends who kept begging her to come to a house party.
“I think she just really wanted to have a good time,” said Allen Pierre-Louis, a close friend of Alex’s. “She worked so hard to get to where she was at.”
But within hours, celebration would turn to tragedy.
Alex was one of more than 200 people who attended the house party in Miami Gardens. Shortly before 11 p.m., she was talking on the phone by the pool when someone began firing a gun. A single bullet struck her.
Dean was in Jamaica, mourning the loss of her grandfather, when she got the first phone call.
There’s been an accident. Alex is hurt.
She came home after the second phone call.
Not being in Miami, Dean said, was the worst part.
“If I had been here, she would not have gone,” she said.
Two days later, Pierre got a similar phone call.
There’s been an accident. You have to go pick up your kids.
Ben was working in his assigned company van, parked in front of a store at 4195 NW 167th St., getting ready for his next delivery at about 1:15 p.m. A few stops away from finishing his route for the company, Ben was almost to his final destination to pick up 5-year-old Bered Jr. and 3-year-old Ethan from school.
But then someone opened fire, aiming for two other people in the parking lot.
A victim advocate with the Miramar Police Department, Pierre sometimes must tell families their loved ones are dead, victims of a crime. She never thought someone would be telling her the same thing.
But that’s why Manny Benitez, the president of American Fasteners Corp., was waiting for her at the children’s school.
“I was waiting for him to say something — he was injured, something,” Pierre said. “He couldn’t get the words out.”
No arrests have been made in either deadly shooting.
Pierre is hoping a blurry surveillance camera photo will be enough for someone to identify the killer. And Dean is hoping a CrimeStoppers reward — recently increased to $4,000 after a donation from a local church — will be enough to coax someone at the party to speak up.
“If I could trade places with her I would, I’d give it up in a heartbeat,” said Raymond Dean, Alex’s older brother. “But sometimes life brings us different directions and we’re going to make the best of it, I guess.”
Pierre had plans for the day before Father’s Day this year.
She had already ordered the superhero-themed shirts her two sons would wear for a surprise photo shoot.
But instead of family photos, the family on Saturday attended Ben’s funeral in Davie and burial at Forrest Lawn Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale.
“I feel like this is a nightmare that I’m just waiting to wake up from,” Pierre said. “I have to learn how to readjust my life.”
Her sons don’t fully understand why their daddy is gone — but they know he is. And Pierre is now trying to fill the emptiness Ben left behind.
“They needed their dad so they could learn how to become good, responsible gentlemen,” she said. “Their dad won’t be able to do that.“
And through it all, she misses her husband and the love he had for her.
“I have my moments where I ask, I wonder,” Pierre said. “Why give me all this happiness to then take it away?”
A few streets away, Dean is struggling with the same emptiness.
She would study with Alex, asking her about medical terms and her classes. Alex would do her hair and choose her clothes.
“I think about her every day,” she said. For now, the pile of shoes and stuffed animals in Alex’s room remain untouched.
On Sunday, she went to the funeral for her daughter. In a few days, Dean will take her daughter home to Jamaica, burying her alongside her father.
It won’t be a goodbye.
“Until we meet again,” she said. “I hope that someday we’ll meet her in the earth made anew.
“Until we meet again.”