Two months ago, Annie Fleming-Alston jolted awake from the most gut-wrenching of nightmares: The 54-year-old mother of two adult daughters dreamt that someone killed her younger daughter.
On Sunday morning, the mother's worst nightmare came true: Her younger daughter, 25-year-old DeeAnna Riddle, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head inside her North Philadelphia apartment. Riddle's father, who lives in the first-floor apartment below his daughter's second-floor unit on Lehigh Avenue near 16th Street, went upstairs to check on her when he noticed she was running late for her 7 a.m. shift as a home mental-health caretaker and found her unconscious and cold in her bed. He dialed 9-1-1 before he attempted to give her CPR and realized she had a gaping wound in the back of her head.
Riddle, a mother of two young girls, was pronounced dead there a short time later.
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"Just like I carried my baby in my womb, I know what happened to her," Fleming-Alston said Wednesday as she sat in the dimly lit dining room of her Logan home, surrounded by portraits of her beloved daughter.
"I always told her, 'Please be careful,'" the heartbroken mother said, the sadness heavy in her dark eyes. "I feel so bad in my heart. I feel like I could have done more."
Riddle leaves behind two young daughters -- Zekiyah, who turns 4 next month, and Zeqouya, 8. She also leaves behind an older sister, Tiffany Fleming, 29, and dozens of relatives.
The last time she talked to her mother was Saturday night, when she told her she was coming to join her at a Fourth of July barbecue. That was about 10:30 p.m., Fleming-Alston said. Her daughter never made it to the barbecue.
"Ever since my baby died, I've been hot," Fleming-Alston said, fanning herself as she sat wearing an orange patterned dress, the hum of the air conditioner in the background. "I know it's my nerves."
Police have not released an official motive or suspect in Riddle's senseless killing, but detectives said they're exploring the possibility that it is a domestic homicide. No arrests had been made as of Wednesday afternoon, as Riddle's devastated relatives packed her mother's porched rowhouse on Hutchinson Street near Ruscomb, planning a Wednesday evening vigil and a funeral.
Fleming-Alston said her daughter was taking classes working toward a nursing degree, and that she worked hard and "spent every dollar" on her little girls, decking them out in designer duds.
"My daughter was a remarkable young woman," the mother said in her dimly lit dining room, showing a portrait of her daughter as a smiling baby wearing a pink dress. "When she walks in a room, she lights it up."
Riddle's death has destroyed her father, who kept her close even as a young adult, allowing her to live in the apartment above his. Fleming-Alston said he is devastated that among the noise of Fourth of July celebrations Saturday night, he didn't hear the gunshot that killed his little girl -- or what preceded it.
"Her dad is a mess. He's torn up," she said.
Riddle's daughters have been staying with their father since their mother's death and were with him at the time she was killed. Fleming-Alston said the girls would usually spend weekends with their dad and weekdays with their mom, when she would often watch them for her daughter while Riddle went to work and did her schoolwork. She said the little girls have been strong in the face of their mother's killing.
"I always sit down the oldest one and explain things to her. I told her, 'Remember when I said I'm all you got? Well now I'm really all you got,'" she said, adding that she plans to get the little girls counseling.
"I don't want them later in life to have resentment," the woman said quietly.
Relatives and friends plan to hold a vigil for Riddle at the schoolyard on the corner of Hutchinson and Ruscomb at 7:30 Wednesday night, Fleming-Alston said.
As for whoever killed the beloved young woman, she wants quick justice.
"I want him so bad," the mother said. "She didn't deserve this."
For now, as she plans her daughter's funeral, Fleming-Alston said her two little granddaughters are what's getting her through the unimaginable heartbreak. She'll step in as their mother now, and plans to have them stay with her during the weeks, when they would normally stay with their mother.
"I'm gonna keep them," Fleming-Alston said. "If I have my girls, I can get through it, because when I look at them, I see my daughter."