Danielle Dubose loved to sing. Her favorite number was Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.” Her mother, Gloria Dubose, still hears her daughter’s lovely voice crooning in unison with Baker’s, “With all my heart, I love you baby/ Stay with me, and you will see my arms will hold you, baby/ Never leave, ’cause I believe I’m in love.” Danielle, the eldest of Gloria’s three daughters, entered all of the talent shows at her local community center. Naturally quiet, Gloria was in awe of her child’s natural stage presence and fearlessness in front of a crowd.
Danielle loved to perform in the talent shows, singing and designing elaborate costumes to imitate her favorite songstresses. She often won. Sometimes first prize and sometimes second, but she was always recognized for her fashion sense and her singing ability. While Gloria was too reserved to stand up on the stage, she and Danielle shared a love of fashion. Mother and daughter talked about starting a clothing line and opening a small boutique in Baltimore.
Life back then was centered around her girls. Gloria, Danielle, and her younger daughters Mary and Nicole lived with Gloria’s mother. The girls’ grandmother watched and cared for them while Gloria worked long hours at a hotel to support her children. The first thing Gloria did when she returned home each evening was to check on her babies.
The girls took care of their mother and grandmother too. When Gloria chipped a bone in her ankle, Danielle made her breakfast every morning and helped her get in and out of the tub safely. On Mother’s Day, Danielle would serenade her mother with The Intruder’s “I’ll Always Love my Mama.” The lines of the song haunt Gloria now: “A mother’s love is so special/ It’s something that you can’t describe/ It’s the kind of love that stays with you/ Until the day you die.”
The neighbors always teased Gloria that she was far too protective of her children, “Let those girls out!” Gloria was afraid something might happen to them so she kept close tabs on her daughters and didn’t let them wander around Baltimore without an adult. She knew the risks.
The girls still managed to have fun. Gloria and her family threw parties throughout the year with Danielle always in charge of baking the cakes. Gloria laughs, “We always said if the clothing line didn’t work out, we would start a bakery or a catering business.” All of the women in Gloria’s family are superb cooks.
The 4th of July, 1997, was one of the many times Gloria and her daughters got together to prepare a big feast for all of their friends. They planned the menu weeks in advance. Nicole would make her famous seafood salad, Danielle would bake, and Mary and Gloria would arrange for three kinds of chicken and the potato and macaroni salads. It would be a barbecue the neighborhood would never forget.
Gloria decided to stop at the grocery on her way home from work the night before the big party. Walking up Milton Avenue, she saw police cars and lights flashing. She immediately thought of her daughters. Danielle was 23 years old and Mary was 20 years old, so Gloria could no longer insist that they be chaperoned when they left the house. Gloria ran. Her mother, Mary, and daughter, Nicole, only 15 at the time, were there. “I’m going to run around to see if Danielle is ok,” she told her mother. Nicole and Mary followed.
A woman who lived in the house ran up to Gloria screaming, “She got shot!” Gloria, again, ran. She found her daughter, bloodied and sprawling, in the backyard. She screamed for help and told the people not to move her until trained medical help arrived. She later learned that the shooter and his friends moved her from inside the home to the backyard, thinking that this may protect them from getting caught.
She touched her daughter’s face, cradling her blood-stained cheeks in her hands, and made eye contact. “It was just as she was closing her eyes. I looked at her and she saw me. Then, slowly, she closed her eyes.” The EMTs arrived and allowed Gloria to ride in the ambulance. She watched, siren wailing, as the team tried to revive Danielle. Then, suddenly, the ambulance just stopped. “What are you doing?” Gloria demanded. The EMTs looked at her. She noticed the siren was no longer blazing and the vehicle was stopped at a traffic light. “We are sorry,” the team leader said. “We did everything we could, but she doesn’t have a pulse.” At that moment, Gloria’s perfect world shattered. Everything she fought to protect was gone.She touched her daughter’s face, cradling her blood-stained cheeks in her hands. 'I looked at her and she saw me. Then, slowly, she closed her eyes.” Go #BehindtheStatistics with Gloria. Click To Tweet
July 2019 will mark 22 years since Gloria sat in that ambulance begging the EMTs to keep trying to save her baby. “It has gotten better,” Gloria says. The pain never leaves but she has found ways to mitigate it. One of the detectives working her daughter’s case referred the family to a bereavement center which proved invaluable. The State’s Attorney’s Office introduced her to Survivors Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE). Gloria still attends the meetings and has come to rely strongly upon the support of the other women in the group. “Crying helps too. When it first happened, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I wanted to die with her. I just hurt so much.”
The trauma didn’t end with Danielle’s death. The medical authorities and the police informed her that when the shooter and his friends moved Danielle, the bullet that entered her arm traveled to her lungs. If the assailants had just left her on the floor, she likely would have survived.
Gloria’s employer came to the family’s aid. They gave Gloria time off and collected money to pay for some of the funeral costs. Co-workers came to her house every day with freshly made meals. A friend offered to purchase a beautiful white dress for Danielle’s burial. It was a generous gesture, but Nicole refused. Just three weeks prior to Danielle’s death, Gloria’s cousin had been shot and murdered. The girls knew the risks of living in Baltimore and had talked about what they wanted to happen should one of them die. Danielle wanted to be buried in her favorite purple sweat suit and purple hat. Purple was her color.
On the eve of their 4th of July party, the party Danielle was so excited to host, the family was now preparing for her funeral. In the hours after the death of her best friend and sister, Nicole approached her mother, “Mom, I think we have to have this party. Danielle would have wanted it that way.” With Gloria paralyzed by grief, Nicole’s boyfriend and future father of two of Gloria’s grandchildren took over. He organized all the food and the barbecue was transformed into a wake. Friends and family came to Gloria’s home and shared their favorite stories about Danielle. Hearing how so many people loved her daughter and missed her provided Gloria with comfort, but it could not control the chaos that now surrounded the family.
The police informed the family that the man who shot her was on the run. Gloria would absentmindedly turn on the television, momentarily forgetting the trauma, and news reporters would be flashing photos of her daughter’s killer on the screen asking people for help locating him. The police spent months trying to find him. Gloria remembers Nicole calling her at work sobbing, “They found him in Atlantic City!” With Danielle’s killer apprehended, they were now thrown into the emotional chaos of a trial.
Nicole and her daughters faithfully attended every day of the trial that school and work would permit. For the first time since that hot July day, the family came face-to-face with Danielle’s killer. The last time she saw him was the night he stood over Danielle’s body, sobbing and begging for forgiveness. Now he sat passively in court, exposing little emotion. His grandmother was the only person in the room to support him.
The grandmother approached Gloria and graciously offered her condolences and asked for forgiveness. Gloria remembers that first interaction fondly. Then the woman’s grandson began to speak, telling Gloria and her daughters that he was sorry while avoiding eye contact. He claimed it was an accident. He said that he was just playing with the gun and never meant to hurt anyone. The judge gave him the strongest sentence possible.
Nicole happened to work in a sandwich shop near the court at the time. The judge frequented the store. The two had never spoken, save exchanging pleasantries such as “hello” and “thank you.” One day, after the trial concluded, the judge approached Nicole. The judge introduced herself and apologized saying, “This trial was not the first time I’d seen the man who killed your sister. He came before me earlier in his life for an illegal gun charge. I let him out on bail, and I regret that decision every day. If I hadn’t let him out, your sister would be alive.”
Nicole and her mother don’t blame the judge or the assailant’s grandmother. They later learned his grandmother provided the police with essential information that led to her grandson’s capture. Gloria instead focuses on the things that give her comfort: her faith, the SAVE community, her daughters and grandchildren, whose names all begin with “D” in memory of their aunt.
“My grandkids keep me going.” She treats them to weekends at a hotel in Baltimore where they act like tourists in their own city, wandering the Inner Harbor and visiting the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. It is a vacation from the Baltimore that Gloria knows so well; the one where she still won’t leave her house at night and often hears gunfire.
Nicole still accompanies her mother to every parole hearing for her sister’s murderer. At the last of the hearings, she watched her typically shy mother summon some of Danielle’s courage to speak in front of a crowd. “I’m usually too nervous to talk in front of a group,” said Gloria. “But I got up. I needed to know what happened to my daughter. A mother needs to know.”
The man told her, step by step, how he was playing with the gun. He fired it unintentionally and panicked. He thought if he pulled Danielle’s body outside, it could absolve the people who lived there of any guilt and make it harder to tie him to the crime. He saw Gloria and her daughters arrive on the scene. He knew who they were. He also knew he would face significant prison time so he ran. The rest is tragic history.
Gloria thinks back to her teenage daughter singing. How prophetic Baker’s lyrics were. “With all my heart, I love you baby/ Stay with me, and you will see my arms will hold you, baby/ Never leave, ’cause I believe I’m in love.” Too many of Baltimore’s children, daughters and sons, leave the warm embrace of their parents. Gloria still says, “I love you” to all of her daughters, Danielle included, every day.
Danielle Dubose: February 1, 1974- July 3, 1997
Written by Liz Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence
Photo by Jen Pauliukonis, President, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence