College-bound Wilson High graduate hit by stray bullet dies

Jamahri Sydnor spoke with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader and an eloquence beyond her years.

Whether the event was ordinary or exceptional, the 17-year-old approached it with unbridled energy and a broad smile. She jumped for joy for classmates who passed an exam or were accepted to college. She convinced a discouraged friend to stay in school and led an impromptu dance aboard a sightseeing boat around Manhattan.

She was so excited about her future and heading to Florida A&M University in about 10 days that she posted a copy of her acceptance letter on Twitter.

A single bullet ended her plans.

Sydnor died Saturday, two days after she was shot in the head by a stray bullet fired about 3:30 p.m. Thursday as she drove along a street in a Northeast Washington neighborhood.

Police said she remained on life support until Saturday, a difficult state for her friends to comprehend as they recalled her upbeat demeanor. “There was never a day I saw her she didn’t have a smile on her face,” said Patrice Arrington, the college and career coordinator at her school, Woodrow Wilson High in Northwest Washington.

“Even if there was something going on in her life, she never let anyone see that,” Arrington said.

Sydnor was also there for friends in need. “She would be the person you looked for if you were having a bad day,” said Timia Hargrove, 17, a friend since grade school.

Sydnor was shot in a car in the 1400 block of Saratoga Avenue NE as she drove a younger relative home.

A police report said that two shooters emerged from bushes where the had been hiding and opened fire on a group across the street. A single bullet hit Sydnor just as she passed. A bystander, who had stepped out from an apartment building, was struck in the buttocks.

Police arrested a suspect the day after the shooting and were searching for two others as of Sunday.

Philip Carlos McDaniel, 21, of Northeast Washington was charged with assault with intent to kill. Court documents say he denied being a shooter but told police that he drove two men to a spot near the shooting scene about the time Sydnor was shot.

The Wilson graduate had planned in about a week to be at orientation at Florida A&M in Tallahassee, a new chapter that so thrilled her that after she received her acceptance letter by email March 30 at 1:19 p.m., she posted it on Twitter by 3:26 p.m. And as summer went on, she counted down the days in tweets: “august 22 is coming soooo slow.”

College was only one of the big events upcoming for Sydnor, who grew up in the District. Her sister was to have been married Friday.

Sydnor’s mother is a 30-year police veteran who has worked as a detective in the homicide unit and is now assigned to the youth division handling sexual abuse cases. Relatives did not respond to interview requests.

Arrington helped guide Sydnor to college and recalled the teenager’s personality.

“As she grew passionate, her voice got louder and louder,” Arrington said. “She got excited over the simplest things, anything to brighten the day.”

In the college hunt, the University of Oklahoma briefly caught her favor.

“She was super excited,” Arrington said. “All you could hear from her the days before the school visited was, ‘Oklahoma is coming! Oklahoma is coming!’ She jumped up and down when the rep came.”

In the end, though, a visit to Florida won her over.

At Wilson, Sydnor was captain of the cheerleading squad, rooting for the Tigers football and basketball teams. She also sang in the choir and helped the group win a top award at a competition for choral jazz this summer in New York City. She was a peer counselor at school and helped classmates through tough times.

One was A’Mee Barnes, 18. She didn’t like school but said Sydnor encouraged her to keep working, and the two graduated together.

They stopped, no matter what they were doing, and danced — they had danced together since grade school — when “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars played. When Barnes stayed out too late, Sydnor told her to get home, earning her the nickname “Mom” among her friends.

Barnes said that she had exchanged text messages with Sydnor shortly before the shooting, discussing how they grew up “so fast” but were excited for the future.

“She’s extraordinary because nobody can have a personality like her,” said Barnes, who also sang in the choir. “She grabs people’s attention. You want to be drawn to her.”

The Wilson choir director, Lori A. Williams, described Sydnor “as a great singer with a great sense of humor.” During the trip to New York, Williams said, Sydnor poked fun at Williams’s attempt to ensure her charges didn’t wander from their hotel rooms by putting tape over the doors and the frames.

“Jamahri was very devoted to friendship,” Williams said. “I’ve seen her get very emotional about making sure she kept lasting relationships.”

In the classroom, teachers said, Sydnor maintained her boisterous ways, even while focused on the lessons.

Michele Bollinger, who taught a class on the history of D.C. government, said contentious issues of race, policing and politics were frequent topics.

She said Sydnor used her perspective from her mother’s career on the police force to offer, and respect, alternative opinions on law enforcement’s relationship with the black community.

“She thought critically about issues,” Bollinger said. “She definitely held views very much in line with defending the victims of police violence.” But she said Sydnor understood nuanced arguments made by police and wasn’t afraid to share them in class.

“I respected her ability to [do] that,” Bollinger said. “It was a great class. Jamahri made it better.”

She did the same with President Trump in Eden McCauslin’s government class. “Jamahri was open to understanding and trying to know the people who voted for him,” McCauslin said. “She was mature and willing to see other people’s perspectives, even though she might not agree with them.”

Hargrove, Sydnor’s childhood friend, said all Sydnor could talk about was going to college, “how she felt at home there. She told me she wanted to start a new chapter in her life. . . . I just want to remember her as the happy spirit everybody wanted to be around.”

Donna St. George contributed to this report.

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