Did 5-Year-Old Brandajah Smith Commit Suicide?

by Yesha Callahan

Brandajah Smith

This past June, 26-year-old Laderika Smith left her 5-year-old daughter, Brandajah, home alone while she went to the store to purchase milk. Upon her return, Smith found Brandajah lying on the bedroom floor with a gunshot wound to the head. Apparently the child found a gun in the closet, belonging to the man they were staying with. Brandajah was transported to a local New Orleans hospital where she died. Smith was later charged with second-degree murder.

One element that has emerged in this case is the possibility that 5-year-old Brandajah intentionally killed herself. In a recent post for The Root, Janell Ross writes about Brandajah’s short and troubled life:

Brandajah frequently moved with her mother and 8-year-old sister, couch surfing at the homes of family and friends, a relative told The Root on condition of anonymity. On more than one occasion, Smith spent time in jail after arrests for prostitution, theft and failures to appear in court or pay required fines, according to public records. (Smith’s court-appointed lawyer declined to comment when contacted by The Root because Smith’s case is pending.)

Living with such turmoil may have been too much for Brandajah.

At John Dilbert Community School, teachers and counselors filled the little girl’s school records with alarming details. Information shared by Brandon Pierre, the girl’s father, indicates that the school contacted state child-welfare officials multiple times. The school believed that the little girl was being sexually abused. And there was something else.

“She had expressed suicidal ideations to a school counselor,” says Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman, who serves as a spokesman for the area prosecutor’s office. “She was apparently very, very close to her 8-year-old sister and apparently asked, ‘If I kill myself, will I still see my sister?’ ”

According to school records, officials at John Dilbert were so nervous, they assigned a school aide to shadow Brandajah. The aide’s job: never leave the 5-year-old alone, not even for a trip to the bathroom, according to Bowman. (The school’s principal did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Prosecutors allege that Brandajah’s mother was well-aware of the school’s concerns. School records indicate that the mother had been warned that staying with her cousin — a felon who has since been charged with illegal possession of a gun — simply was not safe.

Pierre says that he was unaware of Brandajah’s troubles at school; he says no one shared the information in the school files with him until after his daughter’s death. He also says that he did not see his daughter as often as he would have because his relationship with her mother was strained.

“Reading some of the things in that [school] file, they made my stomach turn,” he says. “I had no idea all of this was going on. But I wish to God that I had.”

If suicide is the actual case with Brandajah, several people dropped the ball on this little girl. Including her own mother.

But can a child that young know the actual consequences of death and suicide?

From The Root:

The idea that a child as young as 5 might be suicidal is difficult to fathom, says Dr. Charles Zeanah Jr., vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry at Tulane University. But children facing severe difficulties such as physical or sexual abuse, instability or violence in their home and other traumatic conditions can indeed feel a desire to harm themselves or even die, says Zeanah.

Suicide among preschool and even elementary-school-age children is, thankfully, extremely rare, he says. But warning signs should never be ignored. Children as young as Brandajah do not truly understand the permanency of death, Zeanah says. Nor can they grasp the real meaning of a fatal injury.

“There are two dangers in a case like this,” says Zeanah. “One is that we dismiss it and think, ‘Oh, young children can’t be that troubled. They can’t actually be depressed.’ The other is that we assume that a 5- or 6-year-old is capable of understanding suicide the same way as a 35- or 40-year-old.”

As far as Smith’s role in her daughter’s death, she’s currently facing life in prison.

  • http://gravatar.com/kmnelson1976 KMN

    I’m going home and hugging my 5 year old…

    This is so SAD!! How can a child even think on this level of not being here…I just can’t with this. Bless her soul and I hope that she’s at peace and that her sister is being cared for by someone overly responsible.

    KMN

  • Mmmgood

    I almost cried reading that.

  • MimiLuvs

    My initial reaction?
    “I hope that the b*tch receives a life sentence and I wish that she has a healthy and long life.”
    Then I had some time to think about it.
    I do think that the mother should receive jail time. If not for assisting in this child’s murder, then for child neglect. I think that the father should’ve tried harder to become an active parent in his child’s life… even though I think that I am being “unfair” towards him by my judgement. I agree with this post’s article: everybody that interacted with this baby had failed her. IMO, the moment that this child was assigned an aide to be her shadow, an ACS agent should’ve been involved. I understand that a parent(s) and their child(ren) should be the ultimate goal, in regards to social services. But this case doesn’t sound like it should’ve been the resolution.

  • Naan

    Whether this CHILD, SMALL CHILD, was suicidal or not it does not excuse adults leaving her alone at 5 years old AND leaving a gun out. So charges for murder or manslaughter should still stand.

  • Ask_Me

    This article made me sick to my stomach. Her parents (both of them) deserve to go to prison for neglect. They also need to look into the school’s charges of sexual abuse. Whoever was touching this child needs to go to prison as well. Chances are this individual probably touched her 8 year old sister as well. I hate reading stories like this because this little girl never had a chance at life.

  • IT IS POSSIBLE for a child to understand the concept of feeling so emotionally overwhelmed they want to die. at the age of 7 I was already inflicting self harm upon myself and by the age of 11 was quite nearly committed to the idea of killing myself.
    Luckily I’m alive because I had a teacher with a suspicion of what my mental state was like. Also Ive grown up to learn that fucked up stuff happens to all kinds of people over the world and to get over myself (though i still suffer from depression).

    POINT IS:
    Look after your children, it goes beyond making sure they’re clothed and fed. Make sure you instill self love/ self worth into your children.

  • Anthony

    A minor cannot consent to sex or sign a contract. Only in a few states can even a terminally ill person arrange to kill herself. There is no way on earth, a small kindergarten age should have had access to a gun.

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    Yes it is incredibly sad the amount of suffering and abuse that goes on worldwide. Stories like this make me so angry, like if you are not going to be a great parent, protecting, loving, nurturing, guiding, watching over them at all times etc then don’t have children. God rest this little girls soul.

  • cosmicisistren

    @…. – ” Also Ive grown up to learn that fucked up stuff happens to all kinds of people over the world and to get over myself (though i still suffer from depression).”

    I HATE when people tell you to “get over something”. It isn’t easy as it sounds. You seem to be too hard on yourself (takes one to know one).

    Just know that someone out here that doesn’t know you loves you and wishes only the best for you. Sending ehugs your way….

    I know this has nothing to do with the article but I REALLY felt like addressing it. Hopes “….” reads it.

  • SayWhat

    I always wanted a little girl so the idea that one had such a horrible life…..by the age of 5!!!! is sickening.

    EVERYONE failed her, the school who did not follow through with shadowing her, to her mother who was.not.a.mother, to the father who let his bitter relationship with the mother get in the way of seeing his child as much (what did he do outside of argue with the mother? did he take her to court, did he petition for sole custody) as he needed to.

    I hope they do a rape kit on her because I’m sure the older sister is not safe either. R.I.P. little one.

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    Non custodial parents need to take heed. All that bullshit about not seeing your children as much as you should due to strife between you and the other parent is just that– BULLSHIT. NOTHING should keep you from your children as long as you’re above the ground and free.

  • justanotheropinion

    And THIS is why Clutch is needed. Thank you comicisistren for reaching out. I hope your ehug is felt.

    I second your comment and offer of an ehug.

  • Tsaun

    This is truly sad and disturbing. RIP little one.

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again some people shouldn’t be allow to reproduce. The horrible things these kids who didn’t even ask to be brought into this world have to go through because some people think they had the right to be parents.

  • Starla

    The system failed this child, no reason why with all of this information at hand nobody called cps to have the child removed from the environment she was living in.

    She did the only thing that she could to protect herself from the harm she was in. No adult came to her aid, so she did the only thing she had the power to do. RIP Brandajah. I hope her younger sister is at least in a safe and loving place.

  • Anthony

    I know this will be shot down by a lot of folks, but if the non-custodial parent is facing conflict or possible charges if he comes around the custodial parent, it can be a powerful factor in keeping away. If a man has a shady past or present, he cannot afford an arrest if his ex makes up charges against him. This goes double if he is poor. Everyone doesn’t know the law or social services that can be deployed to facilitate visitation of gaining custody of the child. I would not be quick to condemn someone for not doing what I would do in this situation, which is fight for my kid.

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    Well, I don’t know about “a lot of folks” shooting this down, but I will.

    It is your own fault if your are knowingly engaging in (current) behavior regarded shady enough that it makes your presence in your child’s life appear dangerous for them. I know that SOME women are bitches and will create a false situation to get someone in trouble, but that leads me to the second piece of your rebuttal.

    No, everyone DOESN’T know the law or the social services and legal rights that they have to facilitate visitation or garnering custody of their child. However, in my personal experience and observation, the people that usually do the most barking (and let’s keep it real here, in my case, it’s been men) about how the other parent is giving them a difficult time and that’s why they don’t see their children have not even made an attempt at petitioning the court for ANYTHING. In fact, the only time they step foot in the court (regarding said children) is in response to a petition by the custodial parent for child support. The two exceptions (in MY life, I wouldn’t dare speak for everyone) that weren’t about making excuses for being present for their children have petitioned the court on their own, without the aid of a lawyer. One has sole custody of their child, and the other has both joint physical and legal custody. Both working class brothers, living in two different states. And no, the mothers of their children aren’t psycho unfit crack whores ( Just in case anyone wants to try the “court system always favors mothers so she to be a really fucked up mother for the courts to grant anything in the father’s favor” routine).

    So don’t go blowing smoke up anyone’s ass with the excuse of not knowing. We’re talking about being a PARENT here. Ignorance isn’t a justifiable excuse if you WANT to be there for your child. Deadbeats rest on ignorance. A cursory Google search of “which court handles family law in Louisiana” (the state in which this case is taking place) returns a link (we can’t post links in comments so feel free to do the search with those terms) , which has compiled the links to the relevant court system in every state. I don’t have time to click through all the links, but I know for certain that the website of the superior court in my jurisdiction has most, if not all of the paperwork needed to deal with family and custody issues available in .PDF form on their website. They also link you to the state legal aid site which breaks down family law to you, how the system works, and guides you on how to go about filing the aforementioned paperwork you’d need to file in order to petition your case. I’d expect that the websites most state’s do something similar. Failing that, take your ass down to the court or call your local legal aid or state bar for a referral to someone that can hold your hand through the basics pro bono, if you don’t feel comfortable or competent enough to get the ball rolling alone.

    It WILL take time. You WILL encounter lots of frustration from the system and probably the custodial parent. You may even lose money by taking off work to be present for proceedings, depending on what you do for a living. Nodody’s suggesting that it’s an easy task to take up. Is the consolation of doing what’s right for your child(ren) not worth that? In this case, it cost a child’s LIFE.

    So to any non-custodial parent talking the rah-rah you’re giving for not doing what they need to do to be in their kids life…fuck outta here with that BULLSHIT.

  • Anthony

    First of all, I think the easiest way for a man not to have issues with an ex is to be careful about the women with whom he sleeps. If she is crazy or shady before kids, she will be crazy or shady after kids. At that level, it is certainly on the man not leave his seed any and everywhere.

    As for the information you gave about legal option s for non-custodial parents. I know it is out there. As I said before, I am talking about men who are uneducated, poor, and who might have legal records. These are not men who are going to be quick to go a courthouse because courthouses are not places where things have gone well for them.

    As for criticizing the non-custodial parent for being shady, what do you expect? In the case of this dead child, her mother is shady as hell, would it really be a surprise if her baby’s dad comes from the same sort of background? The unfortunate fact was that the deceased child was the product of people on the margins of society. People with limited resources, and probably no hope for the future. If either of her parents had the sort of determination that you talk about, Brandajah Smith would be alive and probably happily learning in school instead of dead.

  • Anthony

    One possibility I will throw out is that this baby may have had a father who is quite stable, but who was fooling around with her mother, who he sees as beneath him. We all know a lot of men have second families that they do not support as well as the families that they have with their legal wives. If this is the case, the man deserves no sympathy at all.

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    @Anthony,

    Please spare me, a former teenage mother from the projects, whose mother and grandmother were also teen mothers, the structural/social/educational inequality spiel for a second, here. Please do me a favor and don’t try to play me like I’m unfamiliar with the plight of the disenfranchised. I (until late November, anyway) still live in the hood, so I’m not at all removed from or out of touch with that life.

    Many of my male relatives and men I grew were born into similar family and financial circumstance as I, and once things so sour in their relationships with their children’s mothers, they bail and use that tired “my baby mother/mama is crazy/a bitch/won’t let me see my kids” bull. It’s a cop-out because they don’t have the emotional maturity and general fortitude to do anything but sit on their hands and whine about it, like children.

    You keep throwing this issue of having legal records into the mix when I CLEARLY stated in my initial comment which is will copy and paste here: —NOTHING should keep you from your children as long as you’re above the ground and free.— I shouldn’t have to spell out to you or anyone that free means WITHOUT legal encumbrances. If that’s the only legit impedance you have to avoid the legal system, by all means be a responsible PERSON and handle that business first. Otherwise you’re trafficking in emotion driven excuses and (one more time for the road!) BULLSHIT.

    No parent that WANTS to be in their children’s lives is going to sit around and be ignorant about how to do so. They will at the very least discuss it with someone, even if that person can’t necessarily help them. Their desire will eventually point them to someone who can at the very least, direct them to call the courts, go down there, have them google some info on their phone, or tell them to ask someone at a library. I myself point strangers in the direction of help if similar concerns come into my earshot So please, PLEASE knock it off. We’re no longer in a time where information is easily withheld from us. If you desire to get something done that you know nothing about, you will at least speak your desire aloud for help.

  • Anthony

    You have your opinion and experiences and I have mine. You certainly do not have to agree with what I say or even respect it.

    You are not the only person who has seen the bad things life can throw at a person. You have not seen it all or know it all.

    From my perspective, I have some compassion for non-custodial parents who are not involved with their kids. You do not, I can live with an honest disagreement.

  • shay

    I cried when i read the part about her asking if she can still see her sister after death. Lord please save our children…..

  • Lila

    I’m sure the teachers/school workers called. It is harder than you would think to get a child removed from a home. I am a teacher and have had to call the authorities before and the process is generally not efficient. Furthermore, the system has undergone a fundamental change in the recent years where rather than take kids away at first report and then investigate, they investigate while keeping the kid in the home. Unless the child is in IMMEDIATE danger (and living with an abusive person does not count) They are very wary to take kids away from their families. I have been told by CPS workers that they will do anything in their power to not take a kid away from their family. It is so sad all around, especially when the ramifications are felt in the classroom. It’s like the child is crying out and there is no one there to help.

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