Two framed photos showed a wide-eyed, happy baby girl. In one, little Jessica Daniels wore a tiny Santa Claus suit.
Weeks shy of her 19th birthday, Jessica had big plans that included college and becoming a dermatologist. Her mother had set one goal for her: graduate from high school. She did that in May.
“I was so happy to see my baby walk across the stage,” Sanmarian McClain said. “This is all I wanted her to do and she did it. Jessica did it.”
On Thursday, the sound of gunfire jolted everyone inside the family’s South Atlanta home. Someone’s bullet crashed through the window to Jessica’s room, killing her.
On Monday, Atlanta police were reviewing tips from the public to help identify those responsible for the shooting. Investigators have said they thought Jessica was shot by a stray bullet as she slept.
Family and friends filled the small brick home Friday afternoon, sharing hugs, wiping tears and remembering the outgoing teenager, the oldest of four girls. Sanmarian McClain clutched her daughter’s diploma, thinking of happier times.
“Thank you, baby girl,” she said. “How do I go on without thinking about her?”
Jessica’s grandfather, Sanders Love, said he thought the gunshots were outside. He ran upstairs from his basement bedroom and immediately ran to the front door. Then, he heard the screams from down the hall.
“Granddaddy!,” Jessica cried out, “I’ve been shot!”
The family dialed 911 and waited for paramedics. But it was too late to save Jessica’s life. Investigators found numerous shell casings outside, Love said. Another bullet struck a tire on his van.
Love’s wife, Lynette, could barely speak above a whisper, her voice hoarse from crying.
“It’s a sad situation,” she said. “You can’t sleep in your own house.”
No one in the house, including Jessica’s three younger sisters, has been able to sleep since her death. Instead, they shared memories of the daughter, granddaughter and sister who did things her own way.
“She knew how to make her own decisions and she knew how to make good decisions,” her grandmother said. “People loved her for that.”
At her May graduation from South Atlanta High School, Jessica danced across the stage while accepting her diploma. She planned to work close to home for a while before enrolling at Alabama State University.
Jessica wanted to be a dermatologist and run her own practice one day, her family said. Despite her drive, Jessica had a fun side, and made her loved ones laugh when belting out songs by Ray Charles or James Taylor.
Now, they must plan her funeral.
Friday night, friends planned to join the family for a candlelight vigil outside the home. Jessica’s 14-year-old sister, Sara, a South Atlanta High School cheerleader, planned to attend Friday’s football game against Therrell High School. It’s what her sister would have wanted, Sara figured.
The South Atlanta Hornets honored their fallen alumna at Friday night’s game.
“SWARM FOR JESSICA,” read a post on the team’s Twitter feed. The message accompanied a picture of a helmet bearing “JD.” Jessica Daniels’ initials.
Gus Thornhill Funeral Home in East Point is handling arrangements. Plans had not been finalized Monday morning.
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