Naika Venant's mother: I have to bury my baby
It is the dead of night in a parked car somewhere in the city of Miami, and Naika Venant’s mother is awakened by a torrent of Facebook messages, indicating her daughter is committing suicide online.
1:14 a.m.: “Please please please check on your daughter.”
1:17 a.m.: “Please go check on herrr.”
Gina Alexis calls a foster care caseworker, she says, and gets no answer. She calls the state’s child abuse hotline. She scans her daughter’s Facebook feed for any evidence of the unfathomable claims her friends are making. “Oh, my God,” one friend tells her. “Run to the bathroom. Your daughter. Your daughter, she’s hanging.”
But the bathroom is miles away in a Miami Gardens foster home. It is there, authorities would later say, that Naika, 14, fashioned her headscarf into a makeshift noose and wrapped it around a shower rod while live-streaming on Facebook Live.
However, in real time, the speculation online is that Naika is faking the suicide, and Alexis believed — or perhaps wanted to believe — that her actions were a stunt.
In any event, it is possible Naika was already gone before Alexis began what she describes as a fruitless effort to save the girl.
It started, Alexis said, with a call from her friend, then her niece. Where’s your daughter? they asked.
Within minutes, Alexis said she was “swarmed” by more than 90 messages. Some sent her screen shots of her daughter hanging. She recognized the hair. “I could see it was her,” she said.
In an interview with the Miami Herald on Wednesday night, 31-year-old Alexis recounted the harrowing final moments of her fraught relationship with her only daughter. Additional details can be found in a massive collection of records released Wednesday afternoon by the Department of Children & Families, which had been ordered by a Miami judge to provide the documents to the Herald.
The records, thousands of pages that provide a narrative testament to Naika’s suffering, amount to a kind of digital history: scores of texts and Facebook messages between Naika, her mother and a child welfare caseworker who had tried in vain to build a bridge between the two.
Alexis said she has been wrongly cast as a villain, as someone who watched online as her daughter planned and executed a chilling suicide while live-streaming on Facebook. Critics of her behavior have cited a post Alexis made on social media in which she referred to Naika as “a sad little DCF custody jit,” and warned that the girl “will get buried” if she continued down a path of abhorrent behavior.
The post has become a kind of urban legend: a monstrous mother egged on her daughter while the girl was tightening the noose. DCF repeated the allegation in a 20-page report Monday that laid much of the blame for Naika’s emotional unraveling and death on her mother. But the report never specified whether the allegation was true. Meanwhile, news media around the world turned the accusation into a feedback loop.
Within minutes, Alexis said she was ‘swarmed’ by more than 90 messages. Some sent her screen shots of her daughter hanging. She recognized the hair. ‘I could see it was her.’
Remnants of the post still online are, however, undated. And Alexis insists she made the comments at around 1:15 a.m. the night Naika died — but when friends were telling her that news of a Facebook Live hanging were a hoax. Indeed, Alexis said, friends of her daughter were creating fake social media accounts under Naika’s name, reporting that the spectacle was a stunt.
A series of private Facebook messages that appear to be from Alexis after Naika’s death was confirmed as real contain crying-face emojis, along with a broken heart.
“She waited [till] everyone went to sleep she was on live for an hour setting up,” one said, typing in the clipped language of an online post. “People were calling me but I was sleep (sic)...and the calls were coming on the other line I wish I would’ve woken up...Her last two breathes (sic) she started kicking she didn’t want to do it but it was too late.”
Days after Naika’s funeral, Alexis posted a picture of herself leaning over her daughter’s coffin and delivering what she called “the last nite nite kiss” on Naika’s forehead, just below the glittery tiara perched in her braids.
“I didn’t bring from Haiti for this result... I lost my #1 friend my baby my #1 reason to live it’s so hard without you... I love you to the moon and back princess,” she wrote.