Her So-Called Life

Raised in a family devastated by drugs and neglect, Porsche Williams became a mother at age twelve, and a murder victim at fifteen

One Sunday night in October, Porsche Williams met with old friends from the Opa-locka neighborhood where she grew up. About twenty teens were partying together that evening at Platinum nightclub, toasting a friend's graduation. But it was also Porsche's first outing since she split with her boyfriend, Jonas Baptiste, and the fifteen-year-old mother wanted to celebrate her new freedom as well.

Earlier in the day, on her way to get her hair braided for the night of clubbing, Porsche had dropped her three-year-old son, Erin, at the home of her great-grandmother, Tessie Massey. "Mama, I'm scared," Porsche confessed before leaving the 91-year-old matriarch who helped raise her. "I want to come down and stay with you." Massey embraced her troubled great-granddaughter, and assured her she could come and stay whenever she liked.

Porsche had reason to be afraid. Baptiste, age 21, had been stalking her for three days. The previous Thursday and Friday, as Porsche's father, Michael Clark, worked in his yard in Liberty City, Baptiste rode by on his bicycle, scouting for his ex-girlfriend. "I waved at him, he waved back, but we didn't say nothing," Clark recalls. When Baptiste failed to find Porsche, he began phoning Tessie Massey's Opa-locka home. "Quit calling," Massey scolded Baptiste after too many rings. "I done told you she ain't here." Undaunted, Baptiste broadened his search to Opa-locka. Massey's neighbors say they saw him roaming near her home, carrying a gun. On Saturday Baptiste finally spoke to Porsche on the phone. Precious, Porsche's nine-year-old sister, overheard a conversation in which Porsche informed Baptiste she was going out to Platinum on Sunday night. "He told her that if she went he was gonna kill her," says Precious, smiling sadly and staring off into space.

Tessie Massey has helped raise three generations from her Opa-locka efficiency
Steve Satterwhite
Tessie Massey has helped raise three generations from her Opa-locka efficiency

Porsche defied Baptiste and on Sunday night she met her best friend, 21-year-old Trice Jackson, at the club. Jackson grew up with Porsche in Opa-locka, and lived across from Porsche's great-grandmother. "She was like my little sister," says Jackson, leaning against a mailbox, facing the street where she and Porsche played as kids. A pick comb sticks out of Jackson's frizzled hair. "Now I feel empty without her." Jackson contends Sunday night was going smoothly, even when Baptiste appeared on the scene. "They were talking inside and everything was fine." Jackson says. "She [Porsche] was laughing." Porsche posed for two photos. In one she stands alone, wearing black capri pants, tie-up platform shoes, and a cream-color floral shirt. One hand is on her waist, the other on her knee. A constrained smile and droopy eyes clash with her baby face. In a group photo, Porsche stands at the end, her arms draped lightly around the shoulders of an overweight, bald young man who is not Jonas Baptiste.

At about 3:15 a.m., Porsche, Trice Jackson, and a few others called it a night. Porsche, who had been dancing with a man, said her goodbyes and started to exit the club with her friends. When Jackson opened the door, she came face to face with Baptiste. "He was saying, 'Where she at, where she at?'" Jackson remembers. "When I saw the gun, I started screaming, 'Oh my God. No, no, no, don't you hurt her.'" Baptiste grabbed Porsche, hauled her by the neck out of the crowd, and dragged her to the parking lot, claiming he needed to talk to her. He pushed her against the building's wall and fired a Beretta semiautomatic handgun in the air. Porsche whimpered, "Don't hurt me," before Baptiste fired once into her right temple. Then he shot himself in the back of the head. It was 3:20 a.m. Jackson's older brother, Sid, held Porsche's hand as she lay between a wall and a row of cars at 1610 NW 119 St. A stream of blood from underneath her head trickled alongside her left arm, staining her blouse. Her last words, Sid Jackson remembers, were, "I ain't gonna die; I'm too strong."

Porsche had been forced to be strong. While many of her peers were fretting over homework or what outfit to wear to school, Porsche Coretha Williams was dealing with motherhood, AIDS, drug addiction, and death. Help appeared periodically in the form of a father, great-grandmother, and a teacher or two, but in the end too few did too little too late to save Porsche's life. She was born to a family traumatized by poverty and loss, and fell through its honeycombed structure early on. The outside safety net that should have acted as a backup also broke down; the overburdened network of social services proved to be almost as weak as her family.

Not that there weren't red flags: Porsche became pregnant while in middle school, and barely through her first year of high school she had a live-in boyfriend with a criminal record; when her mother died of AIDS this past March, no one assumed custody of the minor; she was chronically truant; and she lived in a duplex that was repeatedly reported to be a crackhouse. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) intervened at least three times, but protective investigators continually assessed the family as "low risk" and eventually shelved their recorded history somewhere in DCF's library of the disenfranchised. The Miami-Dade Housing Agency (MDHA) was notified that Porsche was fending for herself in subsidized housing, and Northwestern Senior High School reported Porsche's high absenteeism to Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services, Inc., yet nothing was done. Ultimately everyone responsible for Porsche's welfare, and that of her sister, Precious, her seven-year-old brother John Lee, and her toddler son Erin, failed them.

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