Kansas City gun violence took Jasity Strong’s life. Her mom says ‘I will never have closure’
For a third consecutive year, homicides in Kansas City are skyrocketing — and many of the victims are mothers. After shootings, headlines tend to focus on suspects, victims and charges. But what happens to the families left behind?
Tamika Jenkins sat on a small stool in her living room late last week surrounded by family. Her house, a split-level home freshly painted dark gray, sits on a quiet, wooded street in south Kansas City.
Jenkins, a mother of five, says her house is a gathering place where her adult children and other family come to eat, listen to music, and fill the house with dance and song.
“My house was called Club Mama's House,” Jenkins explains.
But recently, family members have not been coming over to party. They have been coming to grieve.
“And you know when you say, ‘Oh, after two weeks everybody's going to stop coming, stop calling,’ and all that. No, my family is still coming and I definitely appreciate them 'cause I definitely need 'em,” Jenkins said.
Jenkin’s oldest daughter, 28-year-old Jasity Strong, was killed in a mass shooting in the early morning hours of June 25.
The shooting took place around 4:30 a.m. at the intersection of 57th Street and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri, at an auto repair shop that previously moonlit as an after-hours club. Also killed were 22-year-old Nikko Manning and 27-year-old Camden Brown. Six others were injured.
It was Jasity's birthday the night she was shot. Her family, who call her “Jas,” were waiting at her mother’s home to celebrate. It's what her daughter wanted.
“She was like, ‘For my birthday, party at Club Mama's house,’” Jenkins said.
Strong’s story shines a light on one of the more hidden impacts of the area's crisis of gun violence — the people who must keep living after a loved one dies.
The Kansas City Star reports that Jasity’s killing on June 25 was the 98th homicide in the metro this year. The Star’s homicide tracking database reports that as of August 8, that number had climbed to 124.
The Kansas City Police Department (which does not publish homicides related to officer-involved shootings) said that at this time last year, there were 99 homicides.
Many of this year’s victims have been mothers. Experts say that the sudden death of a parent leaves a huge impact on a child’s life, and can lead to generational trauma.
Who was Jasity?
Loveable, forgiving, bubbly, and happy are just a few adjectives to describe Jasity Strong, according to her mom. Jasity was a certified nursing assistant on her way to becoming a registered nurse, Jenkins said. When Jenkin’s mom died recently, Jasity was there for her family.
“She loved taking care of people. We lost our mom at the beginning of this year. And that's what forced her to stay in nursing because she seen how they treated our mom in some of these facilities,” she said.
Jasity was also a talented makeup artist. She was a semifinalist for a Kansas City People’s Choice Award this spring.
Jenkins said Jasity served as a role model for her younger siblings. She was loyal and liked to make sure everyone had what they needed. She had a lot of friends. She also loved to party.
“She was so lit. Like she always is excited. She was real excited about this 28th birthday for some reason,” said Tamika Jenkins.
Jenkins decided to text birthday wishes to her daughter instead of calling. It didn’t take long before Jasity responded on Facetime. The two took a shot together over the phone. That was the last time Jenkins spoke to her daughter.
The night of Jasity’s birthday, family members waited as it got later and later, finally leaving in the early morning hours. Jenkins says around 4:30 a.m. her daughter got a call saying Jasity had been shot and was gone.
Jasity left two kids, 6-year-old Kiersten and 1-year-old Junior. Her Facebook page is filled with adoring photos and videos of them — Kiersten’s kindergarten graduation, a trip to a petting zoo, the movies. In each photo, Kiersten and Junior are dressed to the nines with their hair neatly done.
“She was a real good mother. She was a good, whatever title she was, sister, cousin, niece. She was there for you," Jenkins said. "She'll give you her shirt off her back if she had to. And that's her.”
Jenkins said Jasity loved spoiling her children. After her death, Jenkins took Kiersten in and Junior went to live with his father — fulfilling a promise from mother to daughter to always keep the kids together.
“I promised my baby that your kids will know each other. No doubt. They both my grandkids, and I will raise my granddaughter,” said Jenkins. “I'm trying my best to do what Jas would do with Kiersten, how she dressed her, how she'd get her hair, keep her hair done and stuff. But I'm gonna do it. I'm, I'm definitely gonna do it because I know every day she's looking at us.”
Life after Jasity
Adjusting to life after Jasity’s murder has not been easy. Jenkins' house was already pretty full. She and her husband also have her adult son, daughter, and her daughter’s toddler living with them in their three-bedroom home.
And Jenkins was also ready to be done with kids and school.
“I was so happy when my son graduated school. I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'm done with school, just to have to start it over in first grade again,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins had Jasity when she was only 15. The two grew up together.
Trish Mitchell is Jenkins’ sister. She took Jasity in for a few years so her mother could graduate high school. Aunt and niece became very close, Mitchell says.
“As she got older, of course, you get your own families and branch off a little bit, but she would always just send me random messages on Messenger,” she said. “And there was one message that she had sent me that I didn't even see until after her passing. But she would just send random messages saying, ‘I love you, auntie.’”
Jenkins said Jasity’s father was murdered years ago. But her husband, William Jenkins, has always called Jasity his daughter. They were close, and since her passing, William has had health issues.
The family had a cruise planned before Jasity’s death. They made the decision to go anyway because they knew it was what Jasity would want. It wasn’t much of a vacation.
“He [William] got on that cruise and got sick. He passed out extremely dehydrated. He was real depressed and he still is depressed,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins said she is having issues with her own health after losing Jasity and her own mother. Some days, she wants to give up.
“I got Lupus and I've stopped taking my medicine. I wasn't taking my medicine for a while because I wanted to be where they at,” said Jenkins. “Everybody keeps saying to me, ‘You got other kids, you got grandkids.’ And I understand that, but they got me. But who do I have? Who do I have?”
Other moms lost to gun violence
Roughly a month before the mass shooting that killed Jasity, there was another at Klymax Loungeon the corner of Indiana Avenue and E. 43rd Street, in Kansas City, Missouri. Three people — two men and a woman — died and two were injured. One of the people who died was 24-year-old Antoinette Brenson. Loved ones knew her as Libby.
According to one of Libby’s aunts, Libby also left behind young children, three of them. Libby’s aunt, Crystal “Monique” Rayner, took the kids in. Less than a month later, Rayner, 36, who also has a teenage son, was herself found fatally shot in a car on I-670. No one from the family chose to be quoted for this story, but in a conversation with KCUR, a relative said Libby was “the light” of their family.
More recently, on July 17, 39-year-old Jami Duncan was allegedly shot dead by her husband, Mantonia Duncan, in the home they shared in the 3400 block of East 54th Street in Kansas City, Missouri. Jami Duncan’s young son was with her in the kitchen at the time.
Facebook posts by Duncan’s teenage daughter reveal that the daughter is pregnant.
“I will never be okay, he took my mom away from my brother me her grandchild and her family,” one post reads.
Duncan's’ daughter and other family members did not respond to KCUR’s request for comment.
Sammy Jordan, Duncan’s neighbor, set flowers out in front of the house. He said he cleared out the house Duncan was renting, and although it’s empty now, he said he can still sense Duncan’s spirit there.
“She was the best neighbor on the block, and she’s still there,” he said, gesturing to her front porch, where her loved ones had placed more flowers and candles.
'She thinks she’s coming back'
Toni Vaughn, a therapist and Director of Prevention and Intervention for AdHoc Group Against Crime says she has seen a lot of cases where kids lose one or both parents or multiple family members to gun violence.
Many begin to think losing loved ones is normal or will happen again, Vaughn said, and if not properly addressed, can result in generational trauma.
“Kids should have the ability to live a healthy life, free of having to deal with discord in their life, deal with grief, deal with stress and trauma,” said Vaughn. “And we are seeing a large number of children come into our care that have experienced trauma, not once, but twice or more times than that. And it's very sad.”
Vaughn said traditionally in the Black community, family members take in children who lose their caregiver. They work together to figure out. It’s always hard.
“You're taking on responsibilities that are not yours in a time where you're trying to heal and grieve yourself,” Vaughn continues. “So it's kind of like the blind leading and blind almost.”
Vaughn said sometimes family members are not able to step in and children are put in foster care which can just add to the trauma.
“It's unfortunate if they have to go into foster care because not only have they experienced the loss of a loved one or loved ones, now they're losing their sense of normalcy and freedom because they're going into a more restricted area,” said Vaughn.
Back at the Jenkins household, the family is struggling to accept what has happened. Jenkins said she is worried about Kiersten acting out in school. The 6-year-old is irritable and does not want to talk about her mom.
“We'll show her a picture of her mom. She'll try to knock it out (of) your hand,” said Jenkins.
“We let her know your mom's in heaven. . . She thinks she’s coming back though. She thinks my mom (Kiersten’s great-grandma) is coming back. She thinks the puppy we lost in July of last year is coming back,” Jenkins said. “I don't know how to explain to her that they're not coming back. You won't see your mom again.”
Jenkins said it’s hard to think about all of the milestones and day-to-day things Jas will miss in her kid’s lives.
“Oh my God, she couldn't wait for Junior to say ‘Mama,’” Jenkins said. “And a week or two after she died, Junior said ‘Mama’ for the first time.”
Jasity’s family is working hard to move forward. They’ve started group therapy sessions. They have set up a GoFundMe to help with costs and to benefit Jasity’s children. Jenkins and her sister, Trish Mitchell, are pushing the state to ban open and concealed carry of firearms at public gatherings. Mitchell said this will help prevent mass shootings.
“Right now it's prohibited to carry a firearm concealed in a courthouse, in a courtroom, juvenile detention center, schools,” said Mitchell. “And we want to add to that list public gatherings so that people can feel free to gather . . . without the fear of gun violence.”
Mitchell and Jenkins started a Change.org petition that has garnered more than 500 signatures so far.
City officials pushed to have the business licenses of the auto repair shop near 57th and Prospect revoked, citing multiple disturbances. The auto shop was registered under four different LLCs, one being “Perfect Touch Auto Detail”. The city ultimately revoked the licenses, shuttering the businesses.
A suspect has been charged with second-degree felony murder in connection to Jasity’s death, but this is little consolation to her grieving mother. There is no consequence for the shooter that can bring her daughter back.
The loss has changed Jenkins, who said on some days, she is enraged. On others, she is so depressed she can hardly leave her bedroom. She’s afraid to be in large crowds, worries for her other kids and is missing days at work. She said the smile she wears on her face for her kids and grandchildren is a mask.
“I had to bury my kid. I had to see her in the casket. My kids had to close a casket on they sister. . . We gotta go visit my daughter, her sister, her niece, her cousin,” Jenkins said, gesturing to Jasity’s family members in the room, “with dirt, dirt on her. And it's hard. I will never have closure. I will never have closure.”