'A bad dream': NJ mother mourns loss of 15-year-old daughter killed in Paterson shooting

·5 min read

Latasha Reed accepted her daughter's honorary eighth grade diploma from the High Mountain School in North Haledon on Monday.

Reed's daughter, Monique Byrd, was not there to receive the certificate, or bask in the glow of accomplishment with her classmates, giddy with the onset of another summer break and the massive leap into high school.

It had been more than five weeks since she was gunned down outside a Paterson bodega at the age of 15.

Four others were caught in the spray of bullets, sources told Paterson Press, but only Byrd's wounds were fatal.

"What was told to me [by police] is she was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Reed said of her daughter's death.

Latasha Reed holds a photo of her 15-year-old daughter, Monique Byrd, who was killed in a spray of gunfire outside a Paterson deli on May 11, 2022.
Latasha Reed holds a photo of her 15-year-old daughter, Monique Byrd, who was killed in a spray of gunfire outside a Paterson deli on May 11, 2022.

The shooting marked the third death of a teenager through gun violence in Paterson this year alone.

But to Reed, her daughter's death was not simply a statistic, or just the loss of a loved one, but proof of how much the city has changed since she grew up on Paterson's Northside, and how little has changed after years of continuing gun violence within the city.

"If you had some beef in the streets, you would fight it out, but you weren’t doing any of that shooting, putting kids in harm's way," Reed recalled of her own childhood in Paterson's 1st Ward.

"No one should have to live like they’re in Vietnam," she said, comparing certain neighborhoods to a warzone. "These are innocent kids being shot over foolishness. And nothing has changed. It’s like it’s another day but same routine: Talk; no change. Sympathy; no change."

Crime: Surveillance footage shows fatal shot from car on Pearl Street; Paterson man charged

Paterson news: Potential salary increases for city officials would come with 'opt-out' clause

Reed left Paterson for North Haledon earlier that year, no longer viewing her home as a place she wanted to raise her children.

But Byrd continued to consider herself a Paterson native, and spent afternoons in the city's troubled 5th Ward, where Reed's cousin lived. It was an arrangement that benefited Reed, who didn't want her daughter home alone while she worked into the evening.

And for Byrd, it was a way to see old friends, as she missed the diverse macrocosm of Paterson, where Black and LatinX and families from the Caribbean all mixed, Reed said. .

She was also old for her grade, after she was held back at Paterson Arts & Science Charter School due to shutdowns related to COVID-19.

Byrd was quiet and "observant" around strangers, Reed said.

"I think it took her until [the age of] 3 to talk," remembered Garfield Ward, Byrd's uncle. "She always just pointed."

Latasha Reed, far left, accepts an honorary eighth grade diploma on behalf of her daughter, Monique Byrd, during the High Mountain School ceremony on Monday, June 20, 2022. Byrd, 15, was fatally shot by stray bullets in Paterson in May of this year.
Latasha Reed, far left, accepts an honorary eighth grade diploma on behalf of her daughter, Monique Byrd, during the High Mountain School ceremony on Monday, June 20, 2022. Byrd, 15, was fatally shot by stray bullets in Paterson in May of this year.

But in familiar company, a different girl would surface. "Once Monique gets to know you, she’s like a breath of fresh air," her mother said.

And she liked to be at the center.

That's one reason she was drawn to dancing, a talent she studied at Paterson Jumpstart, a community services program, since she was 8 or 9 years old.

Reed, a community advocate, works with several nonprofit associations, and would bring her children to some of the groups she assisted.

At Jumpstart, Byrd thrived, dancing in shows and helping other children with their homework.

Eventually, she aged out, but remained close to the organization and its executive director, Jamie Bland, who described Byrd as a leader.

Before Byrd was killed, the two were planning a beauty station the teen could run out of a space at Jumpstart to do hair and makeup for the program's theater productions. It was to be called "Monique's Corner" and be a place where the teen could "do all the beautiful things she wanted to do," Reed said.

However, Bland could easily envision Byrd, whom she described as "vibrant," following a career in law: "She always spoke up about what she thought was right."

Reed agrees.

Byrd had an aversion to injustice and would defend anyone she thought was being bullied.

"That she didn’t like — at all,” Reed said.

Her daughter routinely alerted faculty when she saw fellow students in a conflict, a habit the administrators in her new district noticed, according to Reed and High Mountain's principal, Antonella Lind.

Blunt answers

Byrd's aspirations were left unrealized as she exited a deli near the corner of Essex and Madison streets in Paterson. She was struck in the head by what Reed believes was a stray bullet, based on the limited information police would tell her.

"That’s the frustrating thing," Reed said of not knowing more about what elicited the spray of bullets.

She was at work some time after 10 p.m. when her cousin called to tell her Byrd had been shot. As she raced to the scene, the cousin called back to tell Reed her daughter didn't make it.

"She passed away on the ground. Right there," Reed said. "It was like a bad dream. It’s still like a real bad dream."

The grieving mother called for better policing in the city, suggesting that mobile police units remain in each area, rather than having ever-passing patrols.

However, the community advocate noted, the issue cannot be solved by law enforcement alone.

Latasha Reed holds her daughter's eighth grade diploma during the graduation ceremony at High Mountain School on Monday, June 20, 2022. Reed's 15-year-old daughter, Monique Byrd, was fatally shot by stray bullets in Paterson in May of this year.
Latasha Reed holds her daughter's eighth grade diploma during the graduation ceremony at High Mountain School on Monday, June 20, 2022. Reed's 15-year-old daughter, Monique Byrd, was fatally shot by stray bullets in Paterson in May of this year.

"More programs," suggested her brother, Ward. "There’s nothing for kids to do."

She agreed. While she acknowledged the city hosts recreation programs, she bemoaned that they only run at certain hours, and don't help keep kids off the street when their parents work night shifts, as she does.

Reed is thankful for the outpouring of support she's received from the community, such as a visit from 5th Ward Council Member Luis Velez, but wants to see discussions lead to definitive action.

She said her daughter's shooting has inspired her to "dig in a little more, in order to get more than a blunt answer; to get things handled."

In the meantime, Byrd will always be a part of the community.

While it took only a single bullet to blunt the young girl's potential, plans for "Monique's Corner" have not been so easily quashed.

Other students at Jumpstart will make use of the space once it's complete, and the name will remain intact.

"Monique is still with us," Bland said, "but not with us."

Nicholas Katzban is a breaking news reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.

Email: katzban@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @nicholaskatzban 

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: North Haledon mom mourns daughter, 15, killed in Paterson shooting