Jun 13, 2010

No one's sure when the talk changed, when pride turned to fear.

It just did, as surely as Jarmecca Whitehead went from happy mother to homicide victim. As surely as her daughters went from honor-roll students to murder suspects.

Now, Whitehead is buried on a hillside. The 16-year-old twins, Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah, are in jail.

And the story of the Whitehead girls, mother and daughters, confounds everyone who knew them.

"Everybody loved Nikki!" said Zilif Taskin, using Jarmecca Whitehead's nickname. Taskin was Whitehead's friend, as well as a customer at the Decatur beauty salon where Whitehead, 34, worked until her January slaying.

"I loved Nikki! I think about her every day. I go to sleep, I pray for her. I question God, 'Why?' "

"I am surprised, very surprised, about this" said Cornelius Lee, who attended Tucker High School with the girls until their arrests May 21 and briefly dated Jasmiyah. "I would have never thought it."

Even cops are hard-pressed to explain what could have driven the girls to kill the person who gave them life, said Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson. His department investigated the crime and arrested the twins, who both say they did not do it.

"You see a lot of things" in police work, he said. "But anytime you see a family member perpetrating violence on another family member, it kind of shakes you.

"The mother's dead, and the two teenage daughters are charged with murder," he said. "The core of this family is destroyed."

Blood, a body

In re-creating events that led up to Jarmecca Whitehead's killing, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed her relatives and friends, as well as young people who knew the girls. The AJC also spoke with police, court officials and others close to the case. A picture emerged of a woman who tried, until the end, to keep her family intact.

The end came Jan. 13, a Wednesday.

A Rockdale County deputy was passing through a Conyers subdivision that day when he saw a girl, waving. The deputy, who had served a warrant at another house, stopped. The girl's words came out in a jumble: blood, mother, dead.

The officer walked into the one-story frame home. He saw blood on the hardwood floor, dark-red spatters on the carpet. A woman's body lay on the bedroom floor. He radioed for help.

Conyers police came quickly. They took photos and cut a swath of the bloodied carpet, once tan. They followed a track of spatters from living room to bedroom. They talked to the girls, who said their mother was alive when they went to school that day.

The police remained for hours. Officers came and went. Finally, they rolled out a gurney bearing the body of Jarmecca Whitehead. People looked out their windows or stood in yards, afraid and wondering.

Detectives consulted their notes. No door locks had been jimmied; the windows were intact. Whitehead, they surmised, knew her killer, or killers. She let her assailant walk in.

Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah returned to their great-grandmother's home, where they had lived until recently. They resumed classes at Tucker High School, where they were sophomores.

Police went to work. They would spend four months assembling evidence, creating a net that snared girls who once showed such promise.



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