THE MOTHER of the 18-year-old murdered Saturday night in West Philly by a stray bullet was among the first to show up to Thursday's antiviolence rally at 55th Street and Baltimore Avenue - but she was more there in body than in her right mind.
Zykia Clavon was understandably grief-stricken and inconsolable as she tried to grasp that Nadje Steedley - the pretty girl with the bright smile who enjoyed doing her friends' hair and makeup - really was gone.
As ministers from local churches prayed, and antiviolence activists called on residents to cooperate with the police and rebuild their communities, Clavon held her hands up to the sky as tears ran down her cheeks. She collapsed onto the sidewalk, then struggled to her feet, as if to stand in witness to the tragic ending to her daughter's short life. The horror of it was all over her.
"Oh, my God, they killed my baby. Oh, my God, they killed my baby. Oh, my God, they killed my baby," Clavon wailed as she flailed about. "Oh, my God, it hurts so bad."
According to friends, Nadje had been out earlier, and then she and some friends congregated on a porch in the 400 block of North Salford Street.
They were sitting around talking when gunfire broke out. One of several bullets fired by the gunman struck Steedley in the chest. She was rushed to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where she died about a half-hour later.
No arrests have been made, but police said Thursday that they're making progress in the case, which they believe was prompted by an argument between two groups of teens.
The family is struggling to put together a proper home-going service reflective of Nadje's Christian upbringing but also her newly adopted Islamic faith. As of Thursday night, the services were scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Resurrection Baptist Church, 54th Street and Lansdowne Avenue. The viewing will begin at 9 a.m. A GoFundMe.com fund-raising account has been set up to help offset expenses.
"I picked out funeral clothes for an 18-year-old baby," moaned Nadje's aunt Megan Bradshaw Thursday. "She's going to be all in white."
As Bradshaw spoke, she stiffened and fought back tears, as the sound of Clavon's loud wailing reverberated around the street corner where we all stood.
It was hard not to get completely caught up in the sadness of the moment. I've thought about Nadje every day since her murder. I've interviewed her girlfriends about her life, and perused Nadje's teenage-sounding Facebook posts from the day before she died. Need someone to put my nose ring back it beforr it close and I Want Braids.
"She was trying to make herself a better person," said Denahja Thornton, 17, who had planned on sharing an apartment with Nadje once they both found jobs.
In a city where all too many homicides aren't clear-cut when it comes to the blame game, Nadje was an innocent victim. She didn't deserve to be murdered like that. On the night she died, she had been sitting on a porch - probably flashing that smile of hers and laughing. She'd probably been enjoying the night air with its promises of even better weather to come - and then, around 11:30 p.m., bullets started flying. Just like that, her short life was over. Her uncle identified her body at the hospital.
Her passing was a horrific end to an already bloody week in Philly. Only days earlier, six people were murdered during an eight-hour span. One particularly gruesome crime was a triple stabbing that left a 30-year-old man dead. Nathan Ackison had been watching his car get repaired when he was attacked by a knife-wielding maniac. Authorities attributed last week's murder mayhem in part to the unseasonably warm weather we experienced. If that's the case, then God help us.
"There's too much constant and consistent tragedy in our community," Paul "Earthquake" Mooney pointed out at Thursday's rally. "Summer is not even here yet."
As he spoke, Clavon hollered long, guttural screams of complete and utter despair. "I've got to go. I can't take it. I can't take it. They killed my baby. They killed my baby," Clavon said, tears streaming down her cheeks. She went on and on like that until eventually - blessedly - family members dragged her away.