Thanksgiving still comes around even when you think you have nothing to be thankful for, when you think you have given enough, when you have lost her.
Two days after Thanksgiving two years ago, Sharlene Talk lost her only child, Nicole Adams, 21, who was shot and killed, tossed into the back seat of her car and driven to the West Side, miles from her home, her body there for hours before her accused killer’s mother made him go to Albuquerque police and tell them what he had done – several versions of what he had done, each of dubious veracity.
“It was me and her against the world,” Talk said of Nicole. “And now that world is different.”
But this Thanksgiving, Talk said she wants to remind the world of who was lost, of her beautiful, brilliant daughter, a young mother with so many plans until a bullet took it all away.
“They say the more I share my feelings about my daughter, the more it helps,” Talk said from her family’s home in Shiprock. “And it helps not just me but others who knew Nicole and who know the pain of losing someone this way.”
This way. It was Thanksgiving 2014, and the family had traveled to Shiprock for the holiday. Nicole Adams had driven back to Albuquerque later that day because she had to work Friday as a medical assistant at ABQ Health Partners. At 21, Adams was one of the youngest employees there, but then she was rather an old soul, more mature and determined to make something of herself.
She had graduated a year early from high school on the Navajo Nation, even though she was pregnant with her son, Quamare. As a single parent, she had gone to medical assistant school and had already made plans to attend the University of Miami. Her boyfriend was already there, preparing a place for her and her son. Adams had planned to move there after her birthday in February.
“She was always so ambitious,” Talk said. “She wasn’t one to just sit around.”
On Friday night after work, Adams and four friends went out. Adams, ever the mature one, was the designated driver. In the early morning of that Saturday, she took them home to cook for them in the apartment at Montgomery and Carlisle NE that she shared with Talk and Quamare.
Among the friends was Byron Ezell Hayes, a 25-year-old city of Albuquerque fleet services employee whose first name is sometimes spelled Bryon on various court records. Hayes was drunk, Talk said, scaring the others with a gun he had shot off several times in the apartment parking lot. Adams decided to drive him home.
“Something escalated,” Talk said. “And he shot her.”
It wasn’t until Saturday evening that Hayes’ mother made him flag down a police officer and confess, according to a Journal accounting. But his confession took a few turns.
Initially, he told police he could only remember hearing a gunshot and thought it was a joke until he saw the blood on Adams’ face.
Then, he told police the gun accidentally went off when Adams leaned over to kiss him. Then, he told them Adams had pulled the trigger herself.
He also said he tried to give her CPR and started driving her to the hospital – the closest one a two-minute drive away. He heard a gasp, sensed she had breathed her last and drove her body instead to his apartment at Unser and Ladera NW, showered, changed clothes, stashed the gun and the bloody clothes in his mom’s car.
Detectives arrested him on first-degree murder and other charges.
That Sunday morning in Shiprock, Talk said, she saw TV news accounts about a fatal shooting. She saw her apartment complex ringed in crime-scene tape, saw her daughter’s 2016 Hyundai Sonata, the car Talk had bought for her.
“It was a horrible way to find out she was gone,” she said.
The trial, held this January, was just as shocking to her, she said. Before the case made it to jury deliberations, state District Judge Alisa Hadfield acquitted Hayes of first- and second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in a directed verdict, finding that the state had not proved its case on those charges.
In a last-minute plea agreement, the prosecutor secured a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter and shooting at or from a motor vehicle. With an extra year for a firearm enhancement, Hayes was sentenced in March to the maximum – four years.
“The attorney says she felt they had a good case, put in a lot of hours, a lot of work, but just could not prove that this guy had done it,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Phil Sisneros said. “It was, ‘I did it, but I didn’t do it that way.’ ”
All of which stunned Talk.
“I just went blank,” she said. “It didn’t make sense.”
It still doesn’t make sense, she said. Maybe it never will.
But what makes sense now is to hold a candlelight vigil in her daughter’s honor Sunday at the place in the parking lot where she likely died. The public is invited.
She is now raising Quamare, 6. It is her and him against the world now.
But she tells him, when he is sad, when he misses his mom, that his mom is still there, if he just listens. That is something to be thankful for. That, for now, is enough.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.