A young Dillard University graduate who was beloved by her large family and many friends, and who once dreamed of becoming a brain surgeon, was shot and killed Saturday night apparently while in her car near the former site of the B.W. Cooper housing project in Central City, according to New Orleans police and several sources.
The death of 22-year-old Myeisha McDaniels marked the city’s first homicide of the new year after a 2015 that saw 165 killings in the city.
“She just got a new job in an organ donor place, and she was so excited about it,” said McDaniels’ first cousin, Brianyell McDaniel, 22, speaking from a family gathering of nearly 60 people to celebrate and remember her life. “She was going to start this Tuesday. ... How could this happen?”
Family members, former classmates and a former professor took to social media Saturday night and Sunday morning to mourn the loss of the woman, who was described as having a big heart and a joyful spirit.
Various terms were used to describe her — “angel,” “baby girl,” “ambitious,” “beautiful and intelligent” — but all sources concurred: It was unthinkable that McDaniels, a religious young woman who wanted to spend her life helping people, would find herself in a situation that ended in her violent death.
Police said they received a call from a local hospital about 9 p.m. Saturday reporting that a woman had arrived there after being shot. When officers arrived, they learned that the woman had come to the hospital in a private vehicle and had been pronounced dead.
In a news release, Officer Garry Flot said McDaniels had been shot in the 3700 block of Clio Street in Central City.
Several media outlets reported that family had gathered immediately outside Tulane Medical Center, the hospital where McDaniels was taken. Her family said she had been in her car, a white Nissan Altima, when she was shot. The car reportedly had a shattered windshield and a bullet hole in the driver’s side.
McDaniels was very close with her family and often was with one or more of six female cousins who “did everything together,” said Brianyell McDaniel, adding that although the women are related they spell their last names differently.
“We grew up together,” McDaniel added, her voice quavering with emotion as she recalled countless “girls’ nights” over the years spent with their grandmother, playing games, dancing and, as they got older, drinking wine. “Every waking moment was with her.”
Even the night she was killed, McDaniels had been in an online group chat with her cousins as she went out with her boyfriend, whom her cousin didn’t name.
She had asked what everyone was doing, her cousin said, then told her mother that she was going out to eat with her boyfriend.
“She was going to pick him up at his house, and I guess that’s what happened,” McDaniel said, adding that she didn’t understand the incident “at all.”
On Sunday, McDaniel said, the whole family — including two male cousins who were often by her side, as well as the deceased woman’s parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents — was trying to figure out what happened, and why the boyfriend, whom McDaniels said she loved so much, wasn’t at the gathering.
“She really was a good person, and she never had a falling out with nobody,” McDaniel said. “If she saw trouble, she was going the opposite way.”
Other family members, too overcome with grief to speak to a reporter, passed on details through McDaniel as they gathered at the memorial. They recalled a woman who didn’t talk back as a child but who also was a “Daddy’s little girl” and somewhat spoiled.
They remembered that she was ambitious in her schoolwork but knew how to have fun and loved to dress up, dance and be “the life of the party.” Everyone added how much she loved her older sister, Tyeisha McDaniels, and her little nephew.
As news of the death spread on Facebook, photos circulated of her posing with her nephew, wearing sparkly dresses while out on the town and dressed in graduation gowns adorned with logos of the last two schools she attended: Warren Easton Charter High School and Dillard.
Several Warren Easton teachers and alumni expressed frustration Sunday, saying McDaniels was one of several Easton graduates to be “taken away” by gun violence in the past year. Another was Milan Arriola, the niece of musician Kermit Ruffins and daughter of NOPD Officer Imani Ruffins, who was shot to death while riding in a car July 3.
“Something has to be done,” theater instructor Bernell Elzy Jr. said. “Our intelligent kings and queens are being murdered.”
Nancy Dixon, McDaniels’ former English professor at Dillard, was among those mourning her death. Dixon described McDaniels as a wonderful student who always turned her work in on time, always came to class and earned an A in her class, English 200, Review of Writing Strategies.
“She was outstanding in every way,” Dixon said. “She was always lovely, always kind to other students. She was in a good mood even when she wasn’t in a good mood.”
Dixon also described McDaniels as “deeply religious,” an A student and a very good writer who pondered difficult subjects in her essays, including the morality of assisted suicide and the prevalence of racism through every aspect of society, from education to gun violence.
“We still can’t believe how a beautiful soul like that is gone,” McDaniel said. “It’s not right.”
New Orleans police were working Sunday to determine a motive in McDaniels’ killing while waiting on an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death. NOPD Homicide Detective Drew Deacon is in charge of the investigation and can be contacted at (504) 658-5300.