LANCASTER — A child’s fifth birthday is supposed to be cake and joy and parents’ hugs.
But for Ja’kira Diago, who turned 5 on Monday, there was no hug from her mother. Her mother, Jackie Craine, is dead from bullets.
There was no hug from her father, either. Her father is in jail, accused of killing her mother in a crime so brutal and heinous. James Enrico Diago shot Jackie Craine, police say, back in January outside a Fort Mill apartment complex.
Ever since that day, Ja’kira has stayed with her grandmother, Linda Craine, in Lancaster. She was there when almost 500 people attended a vigil days after her mother’s brutal death. She was there on her mother’s birthday in July.
In a Family Court courtroom in Lancaster on Monday, Linda Craine was awarded temporary custody of her granddaughter. It is the first step of finding justice in so many courtrooms to come because of the bullets that killed Jackie Craine.
“She calls me Momma,” Craine said.
That is what little girls do when their momma dies, and grandmothers without pause jump in with both feet to make sure the child is loved. Grandmother becomes mother – and the love is unbreakable.
Within a year, a final hearing could make Craine’s custody of Ja’kira permanent, said her lawyer, Sean Cronin of Rock Hill.
For Craine to have legal standing to enroll her granddaughter in school and perform other responsibilities of a guardian, a court order such as the one issued Monday is needed, Cronin said.
Diago was in court Monday and wanted to see his daughter or have his family allowed to see her. That request was denied.
Because James Enrico “Rico” Diago, 39, remains in jail at the York County Detention Center, without bond. He is accused of murder, attempted murder and weapons violations. He was arrested shortly after the shooting and has been in jail ever since.
A trial should happen within the next 90 days, said Willy Thompson, York County deputy solicitor.
Jackie Craine had two other sons – Jackel and Aaron – who are teenagers. The oldest, Jackel, was in that SUV that cold morning in January. He was shot in the leg as he tried to escape after his mother was, for lack of a better term, executed.
Monday was the first time – but not the last time – that the Craine family who has been through so much misery saw Diago in court.
“My mother has had Ja’kira since Day One after my sister was killed – that is her home,” said James Craine, Jackie Craine’s brother. “And we will see justice, this case, all the way through. My family will always be there.”
Jackie Craine had moved to Fort Mill from Lancaster to put her children in the best schools she could find. She worked in a glass factory while studying cosmetology and raising those three kids.
Diago has past convictions for domestic violence. Diago so scared Jackie Craine that she had called police at least twice before she was killed. She sought refuge with her family because of the terror, just days before she died.
Diago, first convicted of assault at age 17, then convicted of more assaults and cocaine distribution and possessing a stolen pistol, faces life in prison if convicted.
Ja’kira and her two brothers face life without a mother.
The kids faced Thanksgiving with no mother last week, a birthday without a mother on Monday.
Still, the Craine family has hung in since January, nurturing the children, and now with legal custody of that little girl whose birthday is a celebration of the love of a family.
Erica Simpson, along with Craine’s family and other lifelong friends of Jackie Craine, collected hundreds of cellphones for domestic violence victims over the summer. Simpson was at the custody hearing Monday.
“Ja’kira is a beautiful, wonderful child,” Simpson said. “She is loved.”
Custody hearings require lawyers and judges. Murder trials require lawyers and judges.
Birthdays only need family and love, and that song that every family sings before the five candles are blown out when a little girl with braids in her hair is the star for that day.
If ever a child deserved a special day and a song, it is this 5-year-old girl who has endured so much.
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happeee birthdayyyy, dear Ja’kira, happy birthday to you.”
Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 firstname.lastname@example.org