ALBANY — Janiyah Brooks would have turned 4 years old on Wednesday of next week.
But her young life was cut short. Janiyah was the victim of the brutal child abuse case that shocked the Albany community at the end of May. Janiya’s mother, Crystal Brooks, and her boyfriend, Gregory Parker, were both charged in the case, and felony murder was added to Parker’s charges after Janiyah’s death.
Laura Rhymes, Janiyah’s aunt, was devastated when she learned what had happened. Janiyah’s father called her when Janiyah was being transported to Atlanta.
“He called me and said, ‘I can’t believe it,’” Rhymes said. “I said ‘What’s wrong?’ He said ‘They just transferred my baby to Atlanta.’”
The baby’s father explained that when they got to the children’s hospital in Atlanta, they would do a brain scan to see what, if any, brain activity Janiyah had. Sadly, Rhymes explained, they found no activity.
“(The scan) showed where her skull was almost ripped apart, which is sad,” Rhymes said. “How can you just beat a child to that extent and crush her skull? Why? For what reason? We were devastated.
“I couldn’t do anything but cry. It was devastating because the doctor said there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. (Janiyah’s father) was distraught. He didn’t know what to do or where to turn.”
Janiyah passed away in Atlanta on May 18, and her funeral was held on May 25.
Rhymes said that family and friends knew they wanted to do something else to raise awareness about child abuse, but through the cloud of grief, it was hard for Rhymes and other family members to focus on it.
But as the details of the case became more and more public, community members, people that Rhymes and the rest of the family didn’t know, started reaching out to the family.
“(The response) has been overwhelming because it’s just people who had no clue of who we are,” Rhymes said. “They just heard about this case and are just reaching out for support for the family because of the heinous way this was done. This was a heinous crime, and people were reaching out to us because it could have been their child or grandchild. It is pulling the community together.”
Two community members in particular, Valerie Walls and Stacy Bryant, reached out to Rhymes and the rest of the family about hosting a candlelight vigil.
“When Stacy got in contact with me, I said, ‘OK, let’s go ahead and do this,’” Rhymes said. “(Especially) with her birthday coming up. They reached out to me and asked would it be OK. I said, ‘Yeah, I think it will be awesome.’”
Things started coming together with the plans for a candlelight vigil that would both honor Janiyah and help raise awareness about child abuse.
“She needs to be remembered, and all the Janiyahs that are out there that are going through this, the parents are not speaking out,” Rhymes said. “We want to bring this to light to let them know, let the mothers know to stop holding this information. If your boyfriend is abusing you or your child, you need to speak out. That’s why they decided to go ahead and do this.”
The vigil is set for Saturday, and Rhymes said that Unbreakable Bloodline has volunteered to play. Law enforcement officers will also be at the vigil providing fingerprinting for children.
“Children are being abducted, and there’s a movement to go ahead and get your kids fingerprinted,” Rhymes explained.
Rhymes said that there will also be several survivors of abuse speaking at the vigil to try and give people a better understanding and motivate them to take action when they see the signs of abuse.
“Watch for signs on your children and tell somebody,” Rhymes said. “Pay attention to your child. Pay attention to the way they move, the way they act. If they are small children, of course you have to change their diaper, so pay attention to those signs. Inform somebody. Don’t be scared. Tell someone so deaths like this can be prevented. This could have been prevented. If there’s a mother in the crowd that can hear and understand that she needs to tell someone, that is what we want to accomplish.”
Rhymes said they plan to start gathering for the vigil between 5 and 6 p.m. at Tift Park, and they are asking those who come to show their support by wearing pink, which was Janiyah’s favorite color.