Family’s excruciating Orlando journey ends in forgiveness

The family talked and cried and discussed the anger they all felt.

Days later, on Wednesday night, as they waited for Deonka’s body to be released to them so they could take her home to Eastover, South Carolina, they forgave.

“We forgive the shooter. We talked about it,” said Deonka’s father, a pastor who runs a nonprofit that helps the poor and elderly. “Hatred will find a way to destroy you, so we forgive the shooter. It wasn’t very hard to do. Anger was in me and there was no place to release it. Forgiveness was the way to release it.”

Deonka, whom the family called Dee Dee, had struggled through some hard times in her life but was starting to find happiness, the family said.

A devoutly religious couple from a town of just over 800 people outside of Columbia, Deonka’s parents struggled with their daughter’s homosexuality at times. But the bond of family endured.

“We loved her for who she was,” her mother said.

The family was so close, Deonka had her little sister Alexia’s name tattooed on her arm.

Deonka’s brother, 25-year-old Shepherd III, said he spent hours reading his sister’s poems and was always impressed with her profound intelligence.

Sitting on the hotel room bed, 15-year-old Alexia riffled through her sister’s Bible and remembered her smile, her choppy laugh that everyone noticed. They talked all the time, shared funny videos and had the same favorite color: blue.

“It was her goal to go to school. She didn’t have a chance to do everything she wanted to do,” Alexia said, “and now I want to do it for her.”


Kelli Kennedy contributed to this report from Miami.

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