Dawnn Jaffier had just stepped out of the early-morning J’ouvert parade in Dorchester on Saturday, and was at the corner of Blue Hill Avenue and Charlotte Street when gunshots rang out.
Three young men took off running. Jaffier, 26, lay bleeding to death on the ground, an “innocent victim” in the line of fire, according to Boston Police. It was 8:17 a.m.
Hours later, her father, Ian Jaffier, stood in Boston Police Headquarters at a press conference holding a picture of his smiling daughter, pleading for witnesses to come forward to help solve her murder.
“This is my daughter,” he said, his voice trembling. “I’m going to have to bury her. Because somebody shot her. Senseless crime.”
A second woman in her early 20s who was about three blocks away when the shooting occurred was grazed in the leg by an “errant shot,” said Superintendent Robert Merner, head of the Bureau of Investigative Services. Dawnn Jaffier was shot in the head, her father said.
Police who were nearby when the shooting occurred chased down the three men and recovered a gun, Merner said. Two of the men were questioned and released, and the third, Keith Williams, 18, of Dorchester, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, he said.
Police do not know who pulled the trigger, Merner said.
“This is a very active and fluid and ongoing investigation,” said Merner, who said multiple homicide teams were working on the case. Merner joined the family and other law enforcement officials in asking for help from the public.
“Even the most minor tips can prove helpful to investigations,” said Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. “Investigators do wish to speak with anybody who has any information, no matter how small or peripheral it may seem.”
In a statement issued Saturday evening, Mayor Marty Walsh said, “The hearts of Boston go out to the Jaffier family tonight for the loss of their daughter, Dawnn. She was an incredibly special person, loved by so many in the community.
“These senseless acts of violence need to stop,’’ Walsh said. “We must do everything we can to prevent the loss of innocent lives, and to ensure the safety of Boston’s families.”
Dawnn Jaffier, a Brighton native who officials said was engaged, graduated from UMass Amherst and served with City Year Boston. She was a coach at the Boys and Girls Club.
“Beautiful person, beautiful heart,” her father said. “Always giving to the community.”
In an interview Dawnn Jaffier gave to City Year last year, she said that when she finished City Year she wanted to keep helping young people, so she joined Playworks, which provides programming for elementary schools. She began working at the Hennigan Elementary School, where she was a warm, bright presence.
“She has transformed a school once riddled with behavior issues and bullying into a place of high fives and rock, paper, scissors,” read one glowing, undated write-up on the Playworks website when Jaffier was awarded Coach of the Month.
The write-up describes how Jaffier changed the life of a little boy who used to get in playground scuffles and leave his classwork unfinished. With Jaffier’s help, the boy became a leader in football at recess and won the Playworks Peace Award.
Her father called her a “vivacious young lady” and a model of selflessness in a phone interview after the press conference.
“She knew more about kids than about herself,” he said. “She was all about being positive and pointing kids in the right direction. As a summer camp counselor, she was always there to break up fights and be a mediator.”
He saw his daughter for the last time Friday, when he and his son, who is about to begin his second year in college, were out getting supplies. They ran into Dawnn, who was driving a West End House Boys and Girls Club van.
“I gave her a big hug, my son gave her a big hug. I felt really, really on top of the world with my two kids doing so good. It left me feeling fantastic,” he said, choking back tears. “And then today, I get this news. What else can I say?”
On Saturday morning, a cup, a water bottle, and a puddle of blood were marked by numbered yellow evidence tags near the curb at the intersections of Blue Hill Avenue and Charlotte Street, and investigators could be seen taking photographs.
The area was humming with music and revelry as the annual J’ouvert celebration, part of the city’s daylong Trinidad-style Carnival, was winding down. Most residents said they had not seen or heard anything, or declined to comment. One man who would not give his name said he heard four or five gunshots.
A young man who also declined to give his name said he was outside when the shooting occurred and that it was clear that Jaffier was not the target.
“It wasn’t intended for her, I’ll tell you that much,” he said. He declined to elaborate.
In the past, the carnival has coincided with flare-ups of violence: In 1993, seven people were shot and two run over by a car; in 2007, four were stabbed.
Jaffier’s grandmother, Bernadette Jaffier, said she could not understand how something so “wicked” to happen to her granddaughter, who she said traveled to Spain, London, and the Black Sea, and came back bearing gifts: ornaments, a statue of the Virgin Mary.
She has a picture of Dawnn as a child on her dressing table, she said, and every day she says a prayer for her. In the photo, Dawnn is about 7 years old. When Bernadette goes to bed, she said, the picture faces her, so she can keep watch on the little girl who grew up to travel the world but always came home.
On Saturday night, she said, she would say a new prayer.
“I will pray. I will pray. May she rest in peace,” Bernadette said. “I will pray the Lord is my Shepherd.”