Bittersweet birthdays: Family celebrates life of Desiree Davis
For years, 20-year-old Taiisha Davis looked forward to sharing birthday parties with Desiree Davis, her younger sister.
The two Oakland residents were born two days and two years apart—Desiree on June 27 and Taiisha on June 29. Since their friends got along, the parties were double the fun.
But this year things are different. On Labor Day of last year, just as her senior year at Oakland Technical High School was starting, Desiree died in a brazen shooting.
The murder, which took place in broad daylight in Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood, remains unsolved. So today, as Taiisha observes her twentieth birthday, she says she’ll be haunted by feelings of loss.
“It’s just like day-to-day shock,” Taiisha said. “That’s how it’s been so far.”
Yet on Sunday, Taiisha joined a large group in turning her sister’s eighteenth birthday into a celebration of life. About twenty friends and family members gathered at a relative’s home in North Oakland, where they enjoyed the summer weather and stories of a young girl who died just as she began to gain confidence and independence.
Davis, who aspired to be a veterinarian, was a shy, artistic person. By all accounts, she went out of her way to avoid the street violence that eventually killed her.
Akeem Wynn, a former classmate at Oakland Technical High, said the size of Sunday’s gathering was a testament to Desiree’s charisma.
At Oakland Technical High School, Wynn said, Desiree always felt like an outsider, both because she was new to the school—a Louisiana transplant—and born blind in one eye. Now Wynn wishes he could tell Desiree that she didn’t realize how popular she was.
“If you could be here right now to see this, and see all the friends you have, and all the family that’s supporting you, and all the news, you would be surprised,” said Wynn, 19.
Friends and family members are even getting tattoos in Desiree’s honor. At the party, they showed one another arms and legs emblazoned with her name.
Others, like 17-year-old Jimmie Hayes, were sporting fleur-de-lis pins and earrings in honor of New Orleans, the city Desiree always considered her true home. Prior to moving to Oakland, Desiree lived with her mother in sister in New Orleans, where they survived Hurricane Katrina.
Desiree not only loved the city, but was also connected by family lineage to its jazz history. Her grandfather, Howard McGhee, was a pioneering bebop trumpeter, and her father, Jesse Davis, is an acclaimed saxophone player.
Hayes, who just finished her last year at Oakland Technical High, said Desiree died just as she was beginning to like life on the West Coast. The two friends planned to move to San Francisco together after graduation and attend college.
“I just miss her so much,” Hayes said. “There was so much we were supposed to do when we graduated.”
Sgt. George Phillips of the Oakland Police Department is leading the investigating into Desiree’s murder. He said in a recent interview that he’s working hard on the case, but could not discuss specifics.
Although the shooting took place in broad daylight and in front of several witnesses, Phillips said the Oakland Police Department lacks hard evidence needed to zero in on a suspect.
“Some of the witnesses that were there still need to be talked to, still need to be located and still need to give us information that will help us make an arrest,” Phillips said.
That’s a source of agony for Desiree’s mother, Dru Ann Davis, who says she faces daily battles with anger and grief. Yet seeing Desiree’s friends together on Sunday provided some respite from the pain, she said.
“It’s nice to see them growing up and turning into adults,” Davis said. “I just love the kids and I worry about them.”
As long as memories of Desiree stay alive, family members say there may be hope that investigators will bring the case to justice, and that some of Oakland’s youth might think twice about solving problems with violence.