PROVIDENCE — On Mother’s Day, only a week before she was killed, 19-year-old Tatyana Francois thanked her aunt for being a good example and added that she loved her more than she could express.
Fara Pamphile fought back tears Thursday evening as she read the text from her niece aloud. She said that her niece was her inspiration. And the grief over her loss was more than anyone who loved Francois could express.
About a hundred people joined Francois’ family in an emotional candlelight vigil Thursday outside the Nonviolence Institute in South Providence to honor the young woman’s life.
“People should know her spirit will live on,” Pamphile said. “To know Taty is to love Taty.”
Francois was in her car outside a house in Pawtucket late Sunday night when she was shot and killed. Pawtucket police have said little about what happened, and no one has been arrested.
Those who knew Francois say this does not fit the trajectory of her life. The young Cranston woman was her family’s success story — the beautiful, loving girl who was focused on her future.
“Everybody who knows her are flabbergasted,” said Hasba Flynn, a family friend. “She wasn’t running the streets. She’s not part of that.”
Francois was raised in a large and close-knit family.She was an usher at the Elmwood Avenue Church of God, where she also helped with children’s Bible study and sang in the choir. She was gifted at caring for children, said Flynn, whose young daughter always wanted Francois to come over and play.
While working at Lowe’s in the paint department, Francois was also studying to be an ultrasound nurse and start a business with her own hair products. Pamphile said they were talking over Francois’ ideas for the business model and company name. She said she encouraged Francois to take the risk.
“She was very intelligent. She had a different mindset,” Pamphile said. “She was my role model.”
Her family had wanted people to know that Francois was special, that she wasn’t another statistic in the deadly warfare on the streets. And, the vigil brought together the people of Francois’ life — her many relatives, her childhood friends holding white balloons, her fellow students from Cranston High School East, where she graduated last year, and her classmates in the career program Year Up, where she enrolled three months ago. She was about to be placed in a six-month internship.
During the vigil, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza again deplored the shootings that have wounded and killed people in Rhode Island.
“As tough as this time has been for our community, everyone wants to be part of solving the problem,” Elorza said. “Out of this darkness, light can come.”
Elorza called for the passage of gun control legislation at the General Assembly, nodding at the volunteers from Moms Demand Action standing among the crowd. He also called for addressing the causes of hopelessness in the young people, who are turning to violence, tackling the lack of jobs and housing.
When Pamphile spoke to the crowd, from the steps of the Nonviolence Institute, she told people what had been lost when her niece died.
“Taty was only 19 and had a whole life and future ahead of her. She was a beautiful, young, patient lady that did not deserve this,” Pamphile said. “What needs to be known and needs to be felt, is justice.”
Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, who attended the vigil, said that neighbors had told him they were shaken. He said there were more patrols out in the neighborhood, and police were still working on the investigation.
Francois’ family just wants to know why her life was taken.
“We’re not in gangs. We don’t live that life. She doesn’t live that life. It was the wrong place, the wrong time, for all the wrong reasons,” Pamphile said. “I can’t imagine how scared she was when the bullets were flying.”
After the ceremony, as Francois’ relatives embraced one another, a young woman stood a few feet away, alone. She didn’t know anyone but, “I just knew I had to come,” she said.
She said that she hasn’t been able to sleep since Sunday night, when the sudden eruption of gunfire outside her family’s house on Japonica Street woke her up. She said her mother and little brother rushed into her bedroom, saying that someone had been shot. She went to the window and looked out at a neighbor’s driveway, watching as police, and then an ambulance arrived.
The young woman, who requested anonymity for her safety, said that people in the neighborhood thought at first the victim was a young man who lives there and is involved in a street gang. Then they learned the victim was a young woman.
She realized that Francois was only a year older than her. “I couldn’t believe it was true,” she said. “I kept checking social media, hoping she was going to be OK. ... She was good. She’s so pretty, too.”
She added, “She was a young girl, just like me.”