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Nadawn Brown, 14 -- Murdered (Strangulation)

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Alarmed by the violence in her Oakland neighborhood, Danita King moved her family 40 miles away to a new subdivision in Oakley, where she believed her daughter would find safety and opportunity in the suburbs.

But her dream of a better life came to an end Wednesday when she came home to find her 14-year-old daughter, Nadawn Brown, strangled to death in their home, killed, police said, by a classmate whom fellow students called a spurned suitor.

"It's terrible that Nadawn's mother worked so hard to move her to a safer place, and now this sweet, beautiful child has died," said the Rev. Joseph Simmons, the family's spokesman and pastor of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in Oakland. "She moved out there because her mother wanted her to have all the opportunity in the world. A lot of people think that it's just in the inner city that these things can happen, but they can happen anywhere."

Police arrested a 17-year-old boy within hours of Nadawn's death; he remained jailed Thursday night, held on suspicion of murder.

It was the first homicide in Oakley, a growing suburb on the eastern edge of Contra Costa County, since 2002, and it stunned Nadawn's neighbors and classmates -- many of whom also left Oakland and Richmond for what they thought was the safety of the suburbs.

"This isn't supposed to happen out here," said Jeremy DuPree, 18, a senior who moved to Antioch from Oakland three years ago. "I mean, that's what everyone thinks when they move out here. People look at the nice houses and the quiet streets and really feel like this is another world. But it's not. Stuff can happen anywhere."

It was a tough lesson for many of the 3,000 students at Deer Valley High, especially Nadawn's friends and acquaintances.

"This is a total shock to me," said Michael Thompson, a junior who moved to Antioch from Oakland four years ago. "Why anybody would want to kill this girl is just crazy to me. She was totally cool, she was funny, she was quiet, she didn't cause any trouble."

Investigators would not discuss the motive for Nadawn's death, saying only that the suspect is a classmate at Deer Valley. Several students and neighbors said they believe the suspect, who lived several blocks away from Nadawn, had made advances toward Nadawn but was rebuffed.

"We developed information with the assistance of the family that led us to some folks that we needed to talk to," Chris Thorsen, Oakley police chief, said Thursday. Thorsen declined to elaborate, saying further details may be forthcoming after investigators submit their findings to the district attorney's office today.

Nadawn's mother found her daughter unconscious in the hallway of their home just before 6 p.m. Wednesday. She ran from the house yelling for someone to call 911, neighbors said.

Authorities could not revive Nadawn; an autopsy Thursday showed she had died of "asphyxiation by strangulation."

Investigators said they knew from the start that they were dealing with a homicide.

"It quickly became apparent that we were looking at a crime scene," Thorsen said. "There were signs of a struggle in the home."

Investigators immediately began questioning Nadawn's friends, Thorsen said, and that led them to the suspect. After questioning him, police arrested him around 11:30 p.m. and he was booked into juvenile hall on suspicion of murder.

Nadawn's family moved to a ranch-style home on El Lago Drive in September 2004. Nadawn continued attending an accelerated academic program at Martin Luther King Middle School, then transferred to Deer Valley last fall to begin the ninth grade.

Rick French, who lives next door to Nadawn's family, said they were pleasant and neighborly, and never any trouble.

"With a teenager in the house, I actually expected them to be louder," he said. "I can tell you that the young girl was very quiet, very polite and very nice. I would say they are pretty much ideal next-door neighbors."

The family also continued attending Greater St. Paul in downtown Oakland, where Nadawn was active in a youth dance group, sang in the choir, and participated in plays and skits, Simmons said.

"Her entire family, even extended family, is active in the church, and this is a tragedy that affects people in several communities," he said.

Nadawn quickly made many friends at Deer Valley. She was known as a studious young woman who seemed shy at first but opened up once she knew you.

"She was nervous about going to a new school, but she did really well and she was happy," said Briana Henderson, a longtime friend from church. "She is the kind of person you cannot help but to like, and everyone saw that."

Officials at Deer Valley High summoned counselors from schools throughout the district to help students with their grief. A shrine to Nadawn appeared in a hallway, and as part of an exercise to work through their grief, some of her friends made posters describing her.

"It was the saddest day at school I've ever seen," said Dashia Brown, a junior who is not related to Nadawn. "This doesn't happen at Deer Valley."



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