Speaking through tears Friday in the house they used to share, Geraldlyn Massey remembered the moment she came out of cancer surgery to feel her daughter Monique’s face hovering inches from hers.
“She was this close to me,” Massey said. “When I woke up, she was right there, letting me know I made it through.”
Massey said Monique was the daughter she always wanted, the one who volunteered at a camp for cancer-stricken children then stood by her mother as she underwent treatment for the disease herself.
Wednesday night, however, a driver crashed into the 29-year-old respiratory therapist as she rode a bike on Leon C. Simon Drive, killing her.
Police arrested Rolan White on Thursday after they said he confessed to hitting Monique Massey and fleeing the scene. White, 31, was booked on manslaughter and remained in custody Friday.
Geraldlyn Massey said the arrest gave her a small measure of comfort. Still, she said, “My life will never be the same. My life can never be the same.”
Monique Massey was the youngest of three siblings, including brothers Gerald Massey, 30, and Gerard Massey, 33. Geraldlyn Massey said that after the birth of her two boys, “I wanted a girl so bad. I prayed and asked God for a girl.” Her prayers were answered and exceeded with Monique, she said.
Monique Massey grew up in Gentilly and attended McDonogh 35 High School. She entered Xavier University with the aim of becoming a pharmacist. School there was cut short by Hurricane Katrina, her mother said, and Massey traveled to Houston to continue her education. In 2014, she graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston with a degree in respiratory health.
During summers, she volunteered at a Dallas-area summer camp for pediatric cancer patients. “She didn’t want kids that were dying to feel like they had no life,” Geraldlyn Massey said.
Months before Monique Massey’s graduation, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Massey said her daughter made the trip back from the Houston area as often as she could to stand by her mother through chemotherapy sessions and surgery.
Monique Massey interned at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans then took a job at Ochsner Medical Center-Kenner after graduating, her mother said.
Gerald Massey recalled that after 12-hour overnight shifts, his sister would play with the family’s tiny dog Mick Jagger, slipping the Maltese into her purse for trips outside the house.
Geraldlyn Massey said the playfulness continued when Monique tickled her mother mercilessly.
A devout Catholic, Monique Massey had been abstaining from meat during Lent.
“The last day of Lent, she was going to get the biggest steak she could get,” Geraldlyn Massey said. “She believed in wholesome values, which is very rare in this day and age.”
Someday, Monique Massey had confessed to her mother, she wanted Geraldlyn to help raise her own children as she pursued her dream of becoming a hospital CEO.
“To tell you the truth,” Geraldlyn Massey said, “my daughter was better than I could ever be.”
About 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said, Monique Massey and a cousin were biking home from a trip to the lakefront in the 2900 block of Leon C. Simon Drive.
Police said White, who was behind the wheel of his girlfriend’s red 2010 Chevrolet Traverse, veered into Massey’s bike. The bicycle was sent tumbling over the SUV’s front passenger side, damaging the bumper, hood and windshield.
White drove away. Massey was taken to a hospital, where she died.
The next morning, police asked for the public’s help in locating the vehicle, which they believed was too damaged to drive without arousing notice.
Police received an anonymous tip identifying White as the driver and giving the vehicle’s location. When officers arrived at his residence — just a mile down Painters Street from where Monique Massey lived — they found the SUV.
In what appeared to be an attempt to hide the damage to the vehicle, police said, a brick was in the windshield and a garbage can lid was covering other damage. Police said that after detectives knocked on the house’s door, White confessed to hitting Massey.
Police said White told them he did not see Massey riding her bike until it was too late. Inside the SUV with him, police believe, were three children ages 4, 6 and 9.
Investigators said White told them he fled the scene out of fear.
Geraldlyn Massey praised Officer Danny Ellis, who stayed with the family at the hospital and then told them about White’s arrest.
“They didn’t stop until they found the person that killed my baby,” Massey said of the New Orleans Police Department. “They didn’t treat me as a statistic.”
Magistrate Commissioner Jonathan Friedman on Friday set White’s bail at $100,000 on a count of manslaughter. In doing so, Friedman noted that White had recent felony drug convictions that would make him eligible for harsh punishment under Louisiana’s multiple-offender law.
An Orleans Public Defenders staff attorney appointed to represent White for his first appearance said he is a high school graduate and the primary caretaker for his children.
His next court date is March 31.