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Saturday, June 8, 2019

‘She didn’t get to fulfill her purpose,’ aunt says of 23-year-old woman killed in New Orleans


Authorities identified the woman fatally shot in the 7200 block of Bunker Hill Road Tuesday (June 4) as Nia Lassai. Her aunt said she was 23 years old.

Nia Lassai dreamt of becoming a rapper, her aunt Keisha Dominique said, explaining that her niece’s poetic lyrics were a way to tell her story that included more challenges than any 23-year-old’s life should.

On the day Nia Lassai was born, her biological father was fatally shot in the Calliope Projects where Lassai grew up until Hurricane Katrina. Her mother Kimberly had her first baby when she was 15 and raised six children while trying to hold a job, needing food stamps to support her family, Dominque said. Lassai’s stepfather was shot and killed, too, in 2013. In school, Lassai got in trouble for fighting with the kids who bullied her for her dark skin and hair, Dominque said, until she dropped out around 8th grade.

On Tuesday (June 4), the 23-year-old was fatally shot, two streets from her mother’s New Orleans East home.

“She was a survivor and she was resilient. She wanted better, but she had a hard time figuring out how to get it,” Dominque said three days after her niece was killed. As of Friday (June 7), New Orleans police had not identified any suspects, but continue to investigate the case, said spokesman Aaron Looney.

Officers responded to a shooting in the 7200 block of Bunker Hill around 7:30 p.m. and found a woman, later identified as Lassai, lying outside a home. EMS pronounced her dead on the scene.

Dominique remembered her niece as a talented dancer, playful and someone who joked around with people. She admired her strength, adding that Lassai was very protective of her mother and siblings.

“I tried my best to help my sister as best as I could, but it was hard to come back from what they saw and the life they had,” Dominque said of her sister and her niece, who she said “grew up too fast.”

Lassai attended multiple schools throughout the city before she dropped out of Crescent City Leadership Academy, a West Bank alternative charter school that has since closed.

When she was younger, Lassai was quiet and liked to observe others while she tried to “fade to the back.” It wasn’t until she became a teenager that she became more confident, finding joy in dressing up and doing her nails, Dominique said.

“She had skin that was flawless and she had a smile that would light up the room,” she said of Lassai, who sometimes went by the nickname “Black Barbie.” As Dominque prepared funeral arrangements for her niece Friday, she said she felt “extremely angry.”

“I don’t care how much she fought, this was no reason to die this way at the hands of someone else,” she said. “There is never a reason for that.”

While no suspects have been named by authorities, Dominque said two women around her niece’s age picked Lassai up from her house in a car Tuesday night and drove off. Around 7:30 p.m., gunfire was reported two blocks away.

Dominique isn’t sure what happened that night, but she was told that another woman approached the car and started to shoot at her niece while she sat in the car. After the shooting, Dominque and her family received screenshots of photos, originally posted to Instagram, that show the two women who picked Lassai up posing with the 23-year-old as she died in the grass, Dominique said.

As Dominique and her relatives walked back to Lassai’s house from the crime scene, she said she saw the two women walking nearby. Since then, she has met with NOPD detectives, but still has many unanswered questions.

“You have faces, you have a name, and still, no one is still in custody. I don’t understand,” she said.

The shooting was the second homicide in the Bunker Hill area in two days. Two days before Lassai was killed, a 38-year-old man was fatally shot near the intersection of Bunker Hill Road and Yorktown Drive, authorities said.

Dominique said she begged her sister not to move to Bunker Hill Road, but understood that problems are often caused by the crowd more so than the area.

Dominique remembered her niece for her dreams. Her niece’s first name, Nia, means “purpose” in Swahili, she explained.

“She didn’t get to fulfill her purpose," she said. "She died 23 years too young.”

Anyone with information about Lassai’s homicide is asked to contact Homicide Detective Joseph Jefferson, who is leading the investigation. Information can be provided anonymously through Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111.

Olivia Prentzel covers breaking news and criminal justice for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Reach her at oprentzel@nola.com or find her on Twitter @olivepretzel.

2 killed in separate shootings on Bunker Hill Road ID’d by coroner

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Authorities identified the woman fatally shot in the 7200 block of Bunker Hill Road Tuesday (June 4) as Nia Lassai. Her aunt said she was 23 years old. (Photo courtesy of Keisha Dominique/)
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