I didn’t know Nia Robertson. And now I never will.
It’s a sad fact that violent crimes and murders happen on an almost daily basis here. Mostly we learn about these through the news, and shudder, and shake our heads, maybe even cry a little.
But, even though I didn’t know Nia, the story of her murder is more disturbing to me than most of these other stories.
For one thing, there’s the location, Pal’s. It’s a low-key neighborhood hangout that I’ve visited a few times and always enjoyed. It’s not that far from our house.
For another thing, there’s the whole way it went down, the sheer horrifying randomness of it. A psychotic drifter, only in town a couple weeks, freaks out and attacks people with a knife for no reason.
But most of all, what really gets to me are the accounts from people who knew Nia personally. She sounds like a wonderful person, a nice person, someone I would have liked and maybe befriended.
A neighbor named Kristy wrote the following to our Mid-City discussion group this morning, and her words encapsulate the horror, the outrage, the helplessness:
I am sitting here wondering why I am having to write this post. Nia was my friend. I saw her just yesterday. She gave me the same bright wonderful smile and asked how I was doing. She was the last person I talked to before I left that evening. She said she would call me tomorrow. I didn’t hear from her today. Instead I found out that my friend was murdered and I had been sitting next to her murderer for 3 hours. The man that would take the most wonderful beautiful person out of so many lives had been sitting there reading a newspaper and watching CNN without saying a word. How can this be happening in a place that I felt so safe before the storm? How can I be crying with loss that is so senseless? How come he didn’t turn on me? How could I be sitting next to a murderer and not even know it? HOW HOW HOW? I want to know! I watched people gather all night long to cry on each others shoulder and ask why! To most she is a story that happened close to home. I am sitting here wondering what I will do without ever seeing her smiling face again. What is this city coming to? When is someone or everyone going to step up and do
something about all this? My friend held her as she died. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO GO THROUGH THAT!
And mainly today I am full of sorrow for a friend I never met. If any of Nia’s family or friends read this, you have my sympathy.
Another neighbor, Heather, gives eloquent voice to what so many of us are feeling.
I did not have the pleasure of knowing Nia Robertson in her life. But last night I lay awake wondering if my optimism about our city has been short-sighted. I wondered if the gems who make this city sparkle, with their radiant smiles and warm welcomes, are really so vulnerable. And how does one integrate senseless tragedy into an otherwise fervent will to create a nurturing and resilient community? Have I been naïve?
This morning, I awake to the image of a sincere smile, the manifestation of the way so many mourners are describing Nia, who I will never get to meet. People also describe me by my smile, and I feel a kinship with her. I hope she knew how loved she was. I hope she knew that she was a light in people’s lives. And I remember that the answer to my vexing questions has not changed. It resounds now more than ever.
Today, I recommit to being the change I want to see in my community. I will not make decisions based on fear. I will not hide in my house and I will not be more reserved than usual when I encounter strangers. Instead I will go boldly into the world and step up to shine a little brighter, because with Nia’s passing, we lost some of our light. It will take many of us, shining a little brighter, to forge goodness from this devastating loss. So let this intolerable bitterness shepherd us to be the better selves we wish we were.
Today, I create change the only way I can: by starting with myself.
Thank you, to those who mourn Nia today, for letting me share how she touched my life, without ever having met her. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Update: Alan makes the case that Nia’s murder could have been prevented.