(January 7, 2011) The holidays were a quiet time for the friends and family of Jarmecca Yvonne “Nikki” Whitehead. It just wasn’t the same without the spirit and stylish flair of the 34-year-old hair stylist, whose bloody body was found on January 13, 2010.
Her twin daughters, Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead, now age 17, were charged in their mother’s death in May.
Those who loved Nikki are still mourning, questioning why it happened and if there was anything they could have said or done differently to change the tragic outcome.
With the looming 1-year anniversary of Nikki’s death, these questions still weigh on their minds as they try to move forward from that horrifying day. But in many ways their lives are left in limbo.
Nikki’s mother, Lynda Whitehead, keeps a makeshift memorial to her daughter, filled with photographs, paintings and mementos.
Nikki’s fiancé Robert Head, a long-distance truck driver, still lives in the house where she died. Other than getting the walls painted and some floors redone, he has not changed the home much since that day. He said he is unsure what to do with it. He cannot sell it because of the market. His kids do not want it. So he just continues to come and go, sleeping, eating and heading out to work.
“I think about her every day,” he said
Filiz Taskin, Nikki’s longtime client and friend of 14 years, said sniffling. “I wish she were here. I want to call her and say, ‘Happy New Year.’ I just can’t believe it.”
“It’s almost like a denial the holidays are happening without her,” added Nikki’s childhood friend Yucca Harris.
Nikki’s friends and family plan publicly to memorialize the day she was found beaten and fatally stabbed with a service at 8 p.m. Jan. 13 at theHighPointeChurchin Conyers.
The murder occurred in the Whiteheads’ gated Bridle Ridge Walk home. The girls contend they discovered their mother’s bloody body when they returned from school that afternoon. Blood stained the carpet and splattered the walls in signs of a violent altercation. They flagged down a deputy in the neighborhood for help. The state’s Division of Family and Children Services put the twins in relatives’ homes inStone Mountainand Tucker where they lived until they were arrested in May.
Neither lawyer for Jasmiyah or Tasmiyah, attorneys Dwight Thomas and David LaMalva, respectively, answered the News’ repeated interview requests. Thomas, ofAtlanta, is working pro bono and LaMalva is a court-appointed attorney with offices in Conyers and midtownAtlanta.
The twins had been in Nikki’s custody on court orders only a few days before she died, after living with their great-grandmother Della Frazier for a year and a half. They were with Frazier because they had reportedly attacked Nikki two years ago and were charged with battery assault.
Before that, for five years Nikki and the girls lived with Head, who turned 65 in December.
He said he sometimes feels her spirit around him. “I wish she was here,” he said. “It still hurts. I miss her.”
He continues to second-guess whether he should have tried to convince Nikki to get the twins more help before bringing them back home. At times it was hard to see how bad things were between the three because the girls did not act up much around him, he said.
Yet, he said he thought of them first when he learned, as he drove back toAtlanta, Nikki was dead. When he left for work Jan. 12, he said something was not right with them. He does not think Nikki slept in her bedroom that night because her phone charger was plugged in the living room, so perhaps she fell asleep on the couch watching TV.
“She was so happy the girls were there,” Head said. “So she took her guard down. And from the way things looked, she cooked them breakfast.”
In the decade he dated Nikki, Head tried to support her wholeheartedly, including encouraging her to get closer to her mom and enroll in fashion design school. Also, he took the twins aside for serious talks about treating Nikki better.
“When I’d tell her I’m coming from the road, she knew what I’d like and cook my favorite food,” Head recalled smiling. “She was an excellent person. She used to tell me how the other guys treated her. We talked a lot, and I just listened.
“There’s a lot in the story of hr life and it’s a long story,” Head said. “To me, I’ve been more of a family to them than their other family members. I’d still like to talk to the kids because we were real close.
“We had planned so much for her and the kids.”
Through all of the turbulence, he never saw eye to eye with Frazier. He said money, jealousy and control issues caused rifts in the family, and he blames Frazier for the estrangement.
Several others close to Nikki said estrangement and feuding were reoccurring themes that ran through the four generations of Whitehead women.
The News could not reach Frazier for comment after several attempts to locate her.
Filiz Taskin said she was there the day Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah assaulted Nikki in their living room about two years ago.
Taskin had been in the girls’ lives since they were around age 5, so she said she witnessed their transformation from sweet, achieving students to disrespectful teens. She and Nikki went to out to eat and talk, often about Nikki’s turbulent past and hope for a better future with her twins.
That fateful day Taskin said she saw the girls beat up Nikki and threaten to kill her. She said Jasmiyah hit Nikki in her head and Tasmiyah pushed Nikki.
“They were not the girls I knew,” Taskin said. “I couldn’t believe it. I told (Nikki) to call 911.”
She also believes seeing Frazier belittle Nikki tainted the girls’ view of their mother. “She’d say to the kids, ‘You don’t have to listen to her. You listen to me,’” Taskin said. “Then I’d ask her, ‘Why are you talking to these kids like that? This is their mother.’”
After the attack, Taskin said Nikki told her she was sometimes afraid at night of the girls. So Taskin urged her to keep her bedroom door locked.
Just before Nikki’s death, Taskin had a troubling dream where she saw one of her sons and Nikki.
“I woke and couldn’t even breathe,” she said. “It was like I was suffocating, so I started praying.”
The next day she called to check on her family and went to work, still feeling uneasy. Eventually, her daughter called with bad news. Taskin said she raced to the salon to verify it. When she saw flowers at Nikki’s station, she became ill.
Nikki’s childhood friend of 20 years Yucca Harris said she is trying to move forward but still missing the past with her friend.
“As far as the holidays, I’m missing her more,” Harris said. “It’s really hard.”
She said her best friend loved to celebrate as she proudly showed pictures of them in Halloween costumes one year. Also, Harris’ birthday is in December, and she said one cherished memory was when her mother and Nikki planned a surprise party for her at a comedy club.
But Harris said the 2009 holidays were not as joyous for Nikki because there was hostility with her grandmother and daughters, and all three of their birthdays are in November.
“It’s hard for me to believe this with these beautiful girls,” Harris said shaking her head. “I would never think in a million years my girlfriend would die from a brutal murder, and not bad health or something.”
Simply Unique Hair Salon owner Petrina Sims, Nikki’s last employer, also has warm memories of Whitehead’s celebratory spirit. She knew Nikki ever since they both began hair styling and the twins were about 2 or 3 years old. She said as youngsters, the girls were involved in school activities and earned good grades.
Ultimately, Sims started her own salon. She reconnected with Nikki about 18 months before Nikki’s death when she came to work at the Decatur salon and Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah were teens. By then, Nikki was immersed in family problems, so Sims said she would often talk and pray with her. She recalled times the girls would come to the salon when Nikki was working, visibly upset and refusing to speak to people. Nikki would try to smooth things over, Sims said.
“Nikki was a real loving person,” she said slowly. “She wasn’t one to hold a grudge. It wasn’t long if she was mad at you that it would all blow over.
“She comes to my mind almost every day.”
Now Lynda Whitehead, family and friends will soon release balloons, pray and let people publicly share their feelings about Nikki at the upcoming memorial. There will be a private gathering at Head’s home and then a public service at High Pointe Church, where Nikki attended.
Bishop Sherman L. Young Sr. pastor of High Pointe Church, where the service will be held at 8 p.m., said he hopes attendees will uplift each other while also examining their lives.
“In light of everything going on in Rockdale right now, we want people to come together,” he said. “(Violence) is getting to be so commonplace. I’ve been here 12 years and haven’t seen anything like this.”
Nikki began attending HighPointe the summer of 2008 after getting a flyer in the mail about its youth camp. Young remembers her telling him she was having family and financial problems but wanted the girls ensconced in a safe place that summer, so the church offered a discount. But before the girls got actively involved in the camp, the court ordered them into Frazier’s custody.
In the end, Young officiated her funeral.
Nikki’s Bauder College classmates in Atlanta, where she studied fashion design, will also attend the service. They already had a school memorial and posthumously inducted Nikki into their alumni group.
Nikki’s friends say they plan to follow the twins’ trial closely, but Sims is not sure if she will sit in the courtroom.
Harris said she would not know what to say if she got a chance to talk with the twins. One of the last times she talked to them she urged them to contact her if they needed anything.
“I’m just thinking ahead of how I’m going to get through it,” Harris said.
Taskin intends to be there because she wants to know exactly what happened and why.
“When I wake up in the morning, I think of her,” she said. “When I go to sleep I pray for her. I want to talk to her and ask, ‘How did it happen? What did they do to you?’”