Two quick gunshots broke the silence of a warm spring afternoon.
An angry man’s act of murder-suicide left three little boys orphaned and splattered with their parent’s blood.
In that act of violence, Bridget Mitchell lost her daughter and was thrust into a new unexpected role.
“I’m a mommy all over again,” said the 40-year-old Kansas City, Kan., woman, who is now raising the three grandsons who witnessed the murder of their mother and suicide of their father inside a car parked on a Kansas City street in March.
For Mitchell, the pain of her family’s personal tragedy surfaced anew when Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and himself, leaving their infant daughter an orphan.
“Hearing that was like a smack in the face,” Mitchell said.
But while that case made national headlines and the NFL has pledged financial support for Belcher’s 3-month-old daughter through college, Mitchell has been struggling out of the limelight to make ends meet.
The challenges of raising and coping with the emotional damage suffered by the 2-, 3- and 4-year-old boys have left Mitchell little time to grieve her daughter’s death.
“It’s been a tough nine months,” she said.
Her insurance policy didn’t cover the cost of her daughter’s funeral and then she was laid off from her job because of the time she was forced to spend dealing with her grandsons’ needs.
“I don’t know how to be unemployed,” she said.
She also has had to take a crash course in searching for resources that can help someone in her situation.
Before March 13, Mitchell’s life was quiet and stable. She worked full time and had only her 15-year-old daughter, the youngest of her four children, still at home.
But that afternoon, Mitchell’s 24-year-old daughter, Alyshia Alexander, drove to the home of her estranged husband’s mother in Kansas City so the three boys could visit with their father. Jedidiah Alexander got into the car before shooting Alyshia and then taking his own life.
The boys cowered in the back seat and covered their ears to muffle the sound of the gunshots.
Mitchell, whom the boys call “Nana,” had cared for them frequently. She said she was her daughter’s “break” from parenting.
Now, Mitchell found herself the “24/7” caregiver for three very energetic children: Jaedin, 2; Jeremiah, 3; and Jedidiah, 4.
She was a teen when she first became a parent, and said doing it again in middle age is definitely different.
“These three keep me busy,” she said. “I’m feeling my age.”
One of her first priorities after the immediate task of buying bedroom furniture, sheets and pillows, was to get the boys counseling, and she said that has gone very well.
Though they may be too young to fully grasp the concept of death, they know that mommy is gone and won’t be coming back, she said.
“I tell them that mommy is in God’s house,” she said.
In the living room of her three-bedroom duplex, there is a sketch drawn from the photograph of Alyshia that ran with her obituary.
Mitchell said the boys don’t ask about their mommy as much as they used to, but random things, like seeing a car like hers, will trigger questions. Their therapist said that is good and shows that they feel safe and secure, she said.
For Mitchell, confronting the first Christmas without her daughter had been an emotionally draining time.
The tradition they shared each year involved Mitchell’s knack for picking what she calls a “Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”
And each year, Alyshia would shake her head and say, “I’ll take care of it.”
Somehow she would find a way to transform it into a beautifully decorated tree, Mitchell recalled.
This holiday season, Mitchell was slow in getting the tree up, mostly because every time she considered it, the memories of the past brought on a wave of sadness.
But thinking of the boys and the kind of Christmas she wanted them to have, Mitchell put the tree up for them. She said she “needed to be strong” in front of them, so after they were in bed, Mitchell, alone with her thoughts, took the time to add decorations.
She tried to use lots of lavender and silver — her daughter’s favorite colors. One special ornament has Alyshia’s picture on it.
At least last month the youngest boy was the only one eager to “tear up” the tree. In 2011, her daughter had sent her a picture after all three of them had “totally destroyed” the tree, Mitchell recalls with a laugh.
Since her daughter’s death, Mitchell has been seeking legal guardianship of her grandsons. The process has been slow and frustrating and, unable to afford a lawyer, Mitchell has sought legal aid.
And though family members provide her with the periodic breaks she once provided for her daughter, Mitchell’s life is a daily whirlwind of activity.
The two older boys share a bedroom while the youngest has a bed in her room. Mitchell said the boys were used to staying up late, and getting them on a regular 9 p.m. bedtime schedule took a lot of work. Mornings can be hectic as she gets them up and dressed and fed before driving the older boys to their Head Start program. The youngest still stays home with her.
Though her new life is tiring, she’s not complaining.
She said she feels blessed that she been able to pay her bills and have her grandsons in her life.
“It’s full-time, all the time, until they’re grown up or until God decides to call me home,” she said. “There’s no question about that.”