danella cooper_web.jpgMIAMI — Jeremiah had just celebrated his second birthday last November when he watched his 16-year-old mother shot to death.

Jeremiah sat in a pool of Daniella Cooper’s blood until his aunt came home and found them.

Daniella’s father, Pastor Ernest Cooper, told South Florida Times her killer has not been found.

“We don’t know who killed Daniella,” he said. “She was a very loving person who had so much to live for and couldn’t stand to see other people suffering.”

“Every time I think about Daniella’s death, I ask myself what I could have done to prevent it. It’s only by the grace of God and being a person of faith that I’ve really been able to keep going,” said Cooper, pastor of The Lighthouse Community Church International, 645 Ives Dairy Rd., North Miami-Dade

Now a local chapter of a women’s national service organization has launched a campaign to decrease the chances of anyone else facing Daniella Cooper’s fate.

The National Trends and Services Facet of the Miami Biscayne Bay Chapter of The Links on April 28 kicked off a campaign against teenage domestic violence entitled “Love Doesn’t Hurt.”

More than 80 students, parents, faculty, staff and residents turned up at the cafeteria of  C.O.P.E Center North to discuss the topic and hold a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Daniella.

“We are here to empower these young girls and teach them to be safe in their own bodies, safe in their own communities and safe in their own lives,” said Lucia Davis-Raiford, herself a domestic violence survivor, Links member and chairwoman of Miami-Dade County’s Domestic Violence Oversight Board.

The program also included a reception, guest speakers, songs by the Voices of Heritage Choir and tributes from Daniella’s classmates.

Latavea Johnson-Cobb, a C.O.P.E Center graduate, gave the keynote address. She was physically abused for years after she became pregnant at 13, is now married and has a career in social services.

After giving her testimony, she encouraged the girls to reach for their dreams and get out of any relationships that were unhealthy.

“I’ve been there – but if I could do it, so can you,” Johnson-Cobb said.

Daniella’s classmates have fond memories of her.

Kristal Rodriguez, an 18-year-old mother of one, who said she knew Daniella for a year, recited an original poem that was an acronym of Daniella’s name. She said she still does not understand why anyone would have wanted to kill her.

“It really touched me when Daniella died because she was a really good friend who didn’t do harm to anyone. She was a really smart girl and she didn’t deserve to be killed,” Rodriguez said.

“She was my friend and I was very sad when she died,” said Candy Morales, an 18-year-old mother of two who said she knew Daniella for almost two years.

Cooper said he hadn’t found anyone who said anything bad about his daughter. “She always wanted to help people,” he said.

Cooper urged the girls to realize their worth and stay away from the wrong crowd.

“Have integrity and personal respect for yourself,” he said. “I know what it’s like to lose a child. Daniella is no longer here because of violence. If she had known she was an eagle, she never would’ve been dealing with the chickens.”

Students at C.O.P.E. – a school for pregnant girls and teen mothers –expressed appreciation to the Links and other community leaders for caring enough to organize the campaign.

“I think it’s important to do things like this to inform people about problems like this,” Morales said.

Rodriguez added, “It’s important to open up and have discussions like this so students can know never to keep secrets because things like Daniella’s death can be prevented.”
Links members said they are merely doing what they feel is their responsibility.

“Our chapter has a deep and abiding relationship with the C.O.P.E Center and we want to make sure we don’t lose any more of them,” said H. Leigh Toney, chairwoman of the Biscayne Bay Links’ National Trends and Services Facet.

Davis-Raiford said she was really keenly aware of the problem and “refused to be a part of sweeping it under the rug.”

“We want these young girls to know they have the right to be free from violence,” she said.

The meeting at the school will be followed by a 12-week training course for the young mothers at C.O.P.E focusing on “Expect Respect.” It will be administered by Johnson-Cobb and her co-workers from Safe Space North, a non-profit committed to the advocacy and empowerment of domestic violence victims and survivors.