The family of Deliesh Allen-Roberts has stood and prayed by her bed since St. Patrick's Day, when she was shot in the head outside Locke High School.
Their vigil ended on Good Friday morning, when the 15-year-old was pronounced brain-dead at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Candacy Roberts, flanked by other family members, thanked the doctors and others who helped her niece, then turned her voice toward the alleged gang members who caused her death and issued an impassioned plea:
"Reconsider the hearts you're ripping out every time you do these senseless tragedies. No family deserves to stand here and feel like we feel -- not one mother, sister, uncle, aunt."
Since Deliesh was rushed to the hospital March 17, Candacy and her sister Nina, who had custody of the girl, had been keeping vigil at the hospital. From sunrise to sunrise, the aunts who were like mothers, an uncle who was like a father, and cousins who were brothers and sisters to the girl camped in the waiting room of the pediatric intensive care unit when not at her bedside, and hoped.
From the start, the doctors told them Deliesh probably could not hear them, but Nina Roberts, 34, and Candacy Roberts, 43, hoped otherwise. They stroked her hands and whispered to Deliesh that she would be all right. And they prayed over her throughout the day. Everyone who joined them at her bedside was asked to prepare themselves first by reading a passage from the Book of Matthew:
"There came a certain ruler and worshiped [Jesus] saying, My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay thy hand upon her and she shall live."
Often they just cried silently until they were exhausted. Then Nina would curl up at the foot of Deliesh's bed and stay there in the dark.
Grief has wrung her into a wisp of woman.
She was so careful as a mother -- outrageously overprotective, even in her own eyes.
She rose every day at 4:30 a.m. to make breakfast for her children -- six of her own, and Deliesh. Then she would drive each child to school, go to her job as a hairdresser, then pick each child up from school. No one was allowed to walk home, and once there, she kept them within eyesight. In the evenings, she and her husband helped the kids with their homework.
Whenever possible, Nina insisted the whole family dress alike. "I love that, having all my little princes and queens with me," she said. "In my eyesight, they're still in diapers. I can't help it."
But since the shooting, a voice of guilt and misery has looped through her head.
"I feel like I failed," she said Wednesday afternoon, as she watched and hoped. "I have failed as a mother."
Sliding to sit on the floor in a corner of the hospital hall, Nina huddled in a ball. "If only I'd gotten out of that car and maybe walked to meet her, that bullet, maybe that bullet would've hit me instead of her. If I could, I would take any pain away from her."
Deliesh wanted to be like her Aunt Nina.
In a paper she wrote for a school assignment, she had three wishes in life.
"My first wish is that I can graduate and get my high school diploma." Then she could become a hairdresser, she wrote. Her second wish was to see rapper Bow Wow live in concert.
"My third," she wrote, "is that I would like to get married to the boy I've loved ever since 6th grade."
In pictures Nina Roberts kept at the hospital waiting room, Deliesh and her childhood sweetheart sparkle in their junior prom attire.
She is in a princess blue dress, and her date, looking handsome and proud, wears a white tux with matching blue trim. Then come the goofy photos -- Deliesh and her date with Nina in between them, mugging for the camera; Deliesh bending down before she leaves to hug her little brother Clayton, who wanted to know, "How come he couldn't take her to the prom!"
All of these will be packed and taken home, with the grief.
Deliesh's death is the second recent tragedy for the family. Only days before Deliesh was shot, Candacy's 22-year-old son, Anthony Roberts, had committed suicide. After picking up Deliesh from school, Nina Roberts was headed to buy clothes for her nephew's funeral that Saturday.
Now the sisters comfort each other.
During their vigil earlier this week, Candacy Roberts stepped into the hall and reflected. Never, she said, did she imagine that her intensely private family would become the face of public tragedy.
But while they grieve the loss of Candacy's son and now the loss of Deliesh, they do not despair.
This crucible has ignited something in her that now must be let out, Candacy said. "I reiterate what I said earlier: I forgive the young man," she said Friday, referring to Deliesh's alleged shooter, Dejuan Hines, 18. "Love is stronger than hate."
And her faith, she said, was rewarded.
For just over a week, family and friends had prayed that Deliesh not suffer, that she find peace and respite from this tragedy. Friday morning, she said, their prayers were answered.