The smiling young woman took center stage, hands stretched toward the children in the audience at the West End House Boys and Girls Club, shoulders dipping in time to the first beats of “Teach Me How To Dougie.” She called for applause, and as a cheer went up, the kids sprang from the wooden floor. In seconds, she was surrounded, as she almost always was, by children.
“Come on up!” Dawnn Jaffier shouted, and the line of dancers grew. They planted their feet, shimmied their hips, and bent low at their knees. Jaffier pretended to lasso someone in the audience and mimed pulling the child up on stage.
In less than 24 hours, Jaffier would lie bleeding to death on a Dorchester street.
But in this moment, just past 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22, the weekend still beckoned with the promise of all-day celebration at the Caribbean festival. Jaffier, 26, was planning her costume; her bag was full of gold glitter and spray paint. She smiled when she thought of it.
First, she had to see her kids off. They were always telling her jokes, showing her dance moves, following her around. Jaffier, her boyfriend said later, was like the leader of a little school of fish. After her dancers nailed their routines, 16-year-old Shelby Jean-Pierre found her in the dance studio and taught her the “Shmoney Dance,” the two young women giggling while they rocked their hips and stepped their feet.
She drove a van of children home after the dance around 4 p.m. before heading back to the West End House. On her way, she passed her dad and brother. She pulled over, got out, hugged them both, and drove away. It would be the last time Jaffier ever saw them.
Back at the West End House, her best friend Anim Aweh arrived to work her evening shift. The two women sat in the game room eating sushi and talking about the weekend. Aweh was moving to California on Monday, and she and Jaffier chattered happily about their last blowout weekend together: The carefree party known as J’ouvert Saturday morning, then, in the afternoon, they’d take their positions in their beautiful blue-and-yellow feathered costumes at the front of the Carnival parade. Maybe the beach on Sunday.
“This is for you,” Jaffier told Aweh, her eyes bright. “We’re gonna have so much fun.”
Jaffier had practically grown up at the West End House; Jaffier, Aweh, and their tight circle of friends considered themselves family, lovingly calling each other sisters. As a little girl, Jaffier had teased executive director Andrea Howard that one day she was going to take her job. On Friday evening, the last day of the summer program, Jaffier lingered in the lobby. She would return to her job at the Hennigan Elementary School on Sept. 8 to work as a coach and mentor in the afterschool program.
“We’re gonna miss you,” Howard told her, she later recalled. “You really need to be doing this work full time.”
“Absolutely, I definitely want to do this,” Jaffier said, Howard remembered. She was ready to work in one place, full time, she said. Howard turned to head up the stairs.
“Don’t forget, I’ve been here 15 years. It’s almost time for me to go. You better be ready,” Howard called over her shoulder. Jaffier laughed.
She went home to the Roxbury apartment she shared with her boyfriend of 10 years, 29-year-old Joel Pires, determined to get a good night’s sleep so she’d be ready for an early morning. She was asleep when Pires came home at 2:30 a.m. from work but opened her eyes when he bent over her to kiss her face.
“I love you,” he recalls telling her softly.
She was up at 7 a.m., rummaging through her closet for a tank top and cutoffs. Pires lay in bed, awake. Her costume sat against a wall in their bedroom: a jeweled bikini top and bottom with a headdress 3 feet tall, a riot of blue-and-yellow feathers. She promised she’d model it for him when she came home from J’ouvert.
Before she left, she laid down next to him, their arms entwined. They had talked of marriage, of moving someplace warm, someplace out of the city where they would never have to shovel snow. When they were financially stable, maybe they would have a baby.
They kissed. She left. As she walked out of their apartment, she did not turn. She did not see Pires at the window, watching her go.
She met up with two friends on Humboldt Avenue at about 7:30. They walked down Seaver Street and turned onto Blue Hill Avenue, passing through a group of young men in front of a convenience store as they headed toward Charlotte Street. The women paid them no attention. They could hear Caribbean music in the distance.
It was 8:17 a.m.
Somewhere behind her, 18-year-old Keith Williams allegedly raised a Taurus .357 revolver. Police say he wasn’t aiming at Jaffier. The shots came back to back. Four, maybe five, witnesses said. Williams and two other men allegedly took off running.
Jaffier lay on the pavement, struggling to breathe. Her friend pressed her hands to Jaffier’s head to try to stop the bleeding.
Boston police chased down the three men after they allegedly ditched the gun next to the porch of 11 Drummond St., and they arrested Williams, charging him with murder. The other two men were not charged.
Officials say the shooting might have been gang related. Jaffier, they say, was an innocent victim. They have appealed to witnesses to come forward; the investigation remains active.
When Pires saw Jaffier for the last time, she lay in a bed in Boston Medical Center, hooked up to a machine that was the only thing keeping her alive. He held her hands. He kissed her face.
“I love you so much,” he recalls telling her, again and again. “I’ll love you forever.”
He has spent the last week sleeping with her favorite sweater. He sits in the room they shared and he talks to her.
“Wait for me,” he tells her.