Keenya Cook has been dead for 10 years, but she lives in the minds, hearts and memories of her family.
The Tacoma woman was the first victim of the D.C. snipers, a test of mettle for the younger of two men who then headed east to begin a terrifying string of shootings that resulted in 17 deaths.
Cook was 21 when she opened the door of her aunt’s East Side Tacoma house on Feb. 16, 2002, and was shot in the face. Her 6-month-old daughter was upstairs at the time.
On Thursday, the anniversary of Cook’s death, her relatives returned to the house on East 34th Street where she was killed and recounted happy memories of the woman’s cheery demeanor and delicious cooking.
Her mother and daughter, who live in Fairfield, Calif., tied messages to purple balloons and released them into the night sky.
“It keeps her in the forefront for me,” said Cook’s mother, Pamala Nichols. “We go on day to day, but we’re going to keep the memory here.
“I don’t want Keenya forgotten.”
Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, both of Tacoma, were linked to as many as 27 shootings, 17 of them fatal, in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Malvo confessed to shooting Cook, but neither man was charged with her death.
Authorities don’t think Cook was the intended victim. It was most likely her aunt, Isa Nichols, whom Malvo, then 17, was gunning for, they contend. Muhammad held a grudge against Nichols, who had taken his ex-wife’s side in a custody dispute.
Muhammad was executed in Virginia in 2009; Malvo is serving a life sentence at a maximum-security prison.
Pamala Nichols would like to communicate with Malvo at some point. She has heard he is a talented artist and thinks it could help them both if he sketched a portrait of Cook.
She said she has forgiven Malvo, partially because he was a child at the time of the shooting and because he was manipulated by Muhammad. Mostly, though, her forgiveness stemmed from a need to be strong for Angel, the granddaughter she has raised since Cook was killed.
Angel calls Nichols “mommy” but knows Cook was her mom.
She looks like Cook. At 5 feet tall, Angel’s going to be tall like her mom. She even wants to open a restaurant like Cook dreamed of. Nichols is tickled by the idea because she never mentioned Cook’s plan to Angel.
Angel, 10, is in fifth grade but has already mapped out her future.
She’d like to go to college, then culinary school. She wants to open a restaurant called Tiny’s, named for her best friend, a Pomeranian. It will have a pink kids section and a chandelier. She’d like to find a “good” husband who will rub her feet, and eventually she wants two kids – who will inherit the restaurant.
“She’s Keenya all over again,” Nichols said. “It’s been really fun watching her grow.”
Angel took great care deciding what message to write to her mom.
She settled on, “This is Angel. I really, really miss you and I wish you were still here but you’re in a better place. Love you.”
Angel attached it to a purple balloon, which was her mom’s favorite color.
“We haven’t forgotten about her,” said Marcella Edwards, another of Keenya’s aunts. “We love her. We’re never going to forget about her.”
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