Unsung Heroes

Family Of A'Tierra Westbrook, Killed 3 Years Ago, Wants To Help Others With A 'Journey For Healing'

Last year, A'Tierra Westbrook's mom and two aunts undertook a 500-mile pilgrimage in Spain. Now, they want to return and take the mothers of other murdered children with them.

Registered nurse Senika Shields-Levias recently recalled her deceased daughter's kind spirit, calling her an "angel child" from birth who was never in trouble. Quite the contrary—she called her daughter a good-hearted person who was always willing to help others.

“I’d have teachers literally crying telling me that they were going to miss her and what a delight she was to have in the classroom,”

Shields-Levias told Oxygen.com. “There weren’t even any typical teenage problems.”

Three years ago, on August 3, 2015, her daughter, A’Tierra Westbrook (who went by the nickname A'Ti) was fatally shot as she left her home, attempting to head to her admissions representative job at Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center in Richmond, California, where she worked with Levias. Tragically, she was struck by gunfire, and it caused her to crash her car into a pole. Police don’t think she was ever the intended target; instead, they believe she was the unintended target of an ongoing dispute.

When Westbrook died, it devastated their tightly-knit family. Westbrook, her mother, and her mother’s sisters would talk in a group Facebook chat every day.

“My sister walked up to me with her arms out and said “they killed my baby,” Regina Shields-Hailey, Westbrook’s aunt told Oxygen.com about the first time she saw Levias after the shooting. “I didn’t know what to do. It was one of the most helpless feelings I’ve had in my entire life, not being able to do anything about what had happened.”

Shields-Hailey said that seeing her niece’s body “broke her soul.”

“To see her on the silver table with that body bag, it’s an image that will not escape my head,” she said.

The family was determined to find justice for their beloved "A'Ti." Shields-Hailey told Oxygen that they set up a Facebook page entitled "Justice for A'Ti," they made flyers, and they even established their own tip line.

“The way that things are now, people in the community don’t trust the police, so we became the middleman for the information,” she explained. “We said we wouldn’t give their names to police. We had people calling and texting and emailing tips from everywhere.”

She estimated that they received a couple of thousand tips, and that the tips flowed in every single day until arrests were made.

Their determination combined with the hard work of police detectives paid off. A little over a year after the shooting, two men were arrested. Isaiah Demetrius McClain, also known as “Bucky,” was arrested in 2016, over a year after the shooting. Police think he pulled the trigger. Edward Hill III, who goes by the name “Perv,” is the alleged getaway driver. He was arrested not long after McClain.

Their preliminary trial has been scheduled for Aug. 21. No bail has been set for either suspect.

“When we come together as a community, we can overcome tragedy,” The Solano County Sheriff’s Office stated in regards to the crack in the case. “Senika Shields-Levias and Detective Ronnie Sefried were brought together under the worst circumstances imaginable.”

Police went on to say that Sefried “worked tirelessly to bring justice to A'Ti's family.”  Sefried's dedication to catching Westbrook’s killers to justice was recognized by the Solano County Sheriff’s Office and members of Westbrook’s family, who speak highly of him, were present at that ceremony.

Westbrook’s family didn’t just help make arrests in her murder—they also honored her through a spiritual journey. Shields-Levias, Shields-Hailey, and their sister Tiffany Shields undertook a 500-mile pilgrimage at the Camino de Santiago in Spain last year, a trip they dubbed “Journey for Healing.” The siblings called it a challenging yet awakening emotional experience.

“I saw the beauty in front of me and behind me,” Shields-Hailey said. “The beauty reminded me of A’Ti. I didn’t want to leave this beauty behind me but then I had to look ahead as well and learn how to move and operate in this normal. You can’t go back as much as you try. You're in the middle. It’s the same distance to go back as it is to go forward. So, we like to go forward.”

Shields-Levias told Oxygen.com that the trip helped her towards healing after her daughter's tragic death.

“When I came back home I felt like I could continue to push through what i needed to push through,” she said. “It provided it with more than I expected.”

She said that dealing with the murder of a child thrusts one into a new normal. She added that the pilgrimage could be seen as trying to maneuver in a new everyday life—a challenging environment one never experienced before.

Tiffany Shields told Oxygen.com that she was very angry about the impact that Westbrook’s death had on her family.

“Once we actually got there and started walking I felt the magic of getting in touch with the universe,” she said, adding that it was a life-changing event for her. “It gave me a sense of peace and hope. The Camino made me realize that she’s walking with us and giving us the strength to keep pressing on.” 

Now, the sisters are also trying to help others who have lost children to murder. Shields-Hailey told Oxygen that she and her siblings have plans to return to the Camino de Santiago in Spain, this time with five other mothers who experienced similar losses. They are calling that impending trip “Walking through the fog, #JourneyForHealing." They have created a GoFundMe for the trip.

“Nobody can ever tell you what it feels like to have a child be murdered until it happens,” said Shields-Levias. “It’s the same with the pilgrimage: you can’t tell someone what it will be like it or what you will get from it until it happens to you.”

[Photo: Provided]

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