Story by Madison Keller, edited by Skylar Keller
Epilogue by Nissa Tzun
Sharmel Edwards was many things to this world. She was a loving mother, a devoted grand daughter, an ardent sister, and a passionate educator. On April 21, 2012, she was gunned down by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
An undated photo of Sharmel Edwards, courtesy of Madison Keller.
My mother was a firm believer in higher education. She often told us, “Education is one thing this country cannot take from us. They can take away our resources, our hope, but they can never take away our knowledge." This is something that has always stuck with me. Her journey to higher education started as a freshman at The State of Michigan University. She was often revered for her knowledge, and joyful spirit. Unfortunately she had dropped out due to the lack of resources, an issue many People of Color face on the road to success. Years later she enrolled at Ferris State University where she achieved a goal that many told her, a recently-divorced mother of 2 children under the age of 3 was impossible.
While working full time at McDonald’s and caring for my sister and I, she studied endlessly often having study groups in our home. She triumphed over all the odds against her and graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice. She worked with at-risk youth often with behavioral issues. My mother took great responsibility in caring for these children, making house calls and staying many hours after school to mentor and guide these children. She was a person who did what she felt was necessary, not just what was expected. She later moved my sister and I to Las Vegas, Nevada from Lansing, Michigan. Our mother worked as a teacher with a dream to be a part of a nonprofit organization that focused on helping troubled youth. This dream came into fruition when a local nonprofit organization reached out to her offering her a position. She had a real gift when it came to working with children. She was respected and loved by each child she encountered and succored.
She became just what she always dreamed of, a Black woman in America that could be a role model for her people. She represented a past, present and future of so many People of Color. I loved how whenever she would make a goal for herself, she would get it done against all odds!!
She was very driven in her career and passionate about helping children.
I am Madison Keller or Maddie.
Sharmel’s youngest daughter.
I am 23-years old, living in Lansing, Michigan.
I’m a model, creative consultant and motivational speaker.
Madison Keller (left) at CMA high school in Detroit, where she shared her story about her mother, police homicide victim Sharmel Edwards, and how it impacted her. March, 2018. Courtesy of Madison Keller
I also have my own urban street wear brand “Trapicana, LLC” that focuses on trendy comfortable lounge gear. Also breaking the stigma on the word ‘Trap’ which is negatively associated with drug dealers, and violence. I repurpose this term to represent the hustlers that are pushing positivity and life into the communities worldwide.
Ever since I was three or four, old enough to know what modeling is, I wanted to be one. Later in elementary I was introduced to America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, my life would be changed forever. The looks, the walks, the judges, all the seasons helped mold me into the model I am today!
Sharmel Edwards' daughters, sisters Skylar (left) and Madison Keller posting together at a very young age. Courtesy of Madison Keller
I have also worked with The Lip Bar based in Detroit, a Black-owned beauty enterprise, focused on breaking beauty norms presented to Woman of Color, using a 100% vegan formula, along with a lot of local brands and known photographers in Las Vegas and Los Angeles area.
Skylar Keller, courtesy of Madison Keller.
My favorite person to work with is my sister, Skylar Keller. Together we are a creative powerhouse. We have collaborated on many projects that highlight our flare for fashion and photography, which has led us into curating our own business.
“Sharmel’s Daughters Consulting” focuses on everything creative, from image consulting, personal shopping, styling, photography, modeling and more for other Black creatives across the country!
Madison Keller, modeling photos. Courtesy of Madison Keller
Due to the tragedy of what happened to my mother and other personal issues, my mental health has its ups and downs. It’s always something I’ve been transparent about. I’ve spoken to groups of young women discussing dealing with trauma at a young age and how to push through. I spoke about having low self esteem, overcoming bullies in school and ultimately tapping into my infinite potential.
In the future I hope to expand more in my hometown Lansing and Detroit as well with connecting to more young women dealing with similar circumstances.
And this is it. My mother was wrongfully gunned down, on April 21, 2012 by five Las Vegas Metropolitan police officers. Their names are: Melvyn F. English, Todd G. Edwards, Truong T. Thai, Matthew J. Cook and Christopher M. Grivas. They shot her more than 24 times . . .
I believe that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department abused their authority leading to the death of my mother.
My sister was a senior in high school and I was a sophomore. We were students at Cimarron high school. She made sure we would got to school on time and that we had breakfast, lunch money and dinner. One thing I loved about my mom was that she trusted her parenting enough to trust us. Our home was always open to anyone who needed either a hot meal, a good laugh and always had an abundance of love. She was raised to be self sufficient and independent which she passed onto us.
An undated photo of Sharmel Edwards. Courtesy of Madison Keller
My mother would go to the bar up the street from our apartment complex (“Paradisos” on Rainbow), where she occasionally enjoyed drinks with friends. Through these visits my mother developed a friendship with the owner.
My mother’s car was in the shop. The owner of the bar offered to let my mom borrow his car to help her out. She was so thankful, I imagine her thinking this was a karmic gift from her many selfless acts throughout the year, not knowing that it would be the reason she would later be the victim of a senseless murder. She came home searching for her phone which she was vigorously looking for. I remember her being so worried she could not contact the man who she thought was coming to her rescue with the means to get around while her car being repaired.
I remember my mom waking me up that night telling me she’d be home soon, she just had to return the car she borrowed. I never saw her again.
The Review Journal later reported the man's name is Ken. He never came forward. Not even after she passed away. While trying to reach her, he was unsuccessful. He imagined the worse, as many do when your skin is dark. He called 911 and reported his car stolen by my mom.
He told the police that she had a gun on her.
He lied. The gun, if there ever was one, was his.
Around 2 or 3 o’clock a.m., the cops pulled her over at the corner of Jones and Smoke Ranch.
They said she got out of the car and pointed the gun at them, which resulted in them taking her life.
Surprising behavior for a woman with extensive education in criminal justice.
Where is the dashcam video footage?
Street video footage?
Footage from gas stations or companies near?
Where is the gun she supposedly pointed?
What about the 911 call that was made?
WHY DID it take five men?
Why didn’t they use a pellet gun? Pepper spray?
Witnesses say she had her hands up.
Other witnesses say she was crying.
It gets more confusing . . .
The morning after the coroner came to tell us the news..he first told us that she passed away from an “accident." My sister and I assumed it was a fatal car accident that took her life. They later confessed that she was murdered by the police department.
At the time before her passing my mother was taking care of our great grandmother, Nana. She was already making calls to our family in Michigan telling them that, “Sharmel died in a car accident.”
It was never that.
My mom was a 49-year old Black woman who weighed 130-something pounds and stood 5’4” - they shot her to shreds. I’m thankful I didn’t have to identify her body cause lord knows I probably would never be the same if I had that image in my head.
For the past couple years on social media I’ve been making it my duty to get my mother’s name heard. Although I’ve reached out to a lot of activists and celebrities, I’m blessed that Forced Trajectory Project reached out to me through a post about my mother on my Instagram. Forced Trajectory has helped me connect with a lovely lady, Ms. Alma Chavez whose son, Rafael Olivas, was killed by one of the officers (Christopher Grivas) that killed my mom as well. Without them, I wouldn’t be here sharing my story. So thank you all at FTP ❣️
My heart gets immediately heavy when one of us is made into another hashtag in the news due to police brutality and white supremacy terrorism.
Our stories will be told!
Our work often depends on investigative and serendipitous finds. I first learned about Sharmel Edwards from Alma Chavez, the mother of Rafael Olivas who was gunned down by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police on July 14, 2011. She told me that one of the officers who shot Rafael, officer Christopher Grivas, ended up involved in another fatality a year later, this time, the victim was a woman who was in the field of social work. In our work we try to connect impacted families, partially to investigate the nuances of police homicide further, but also to bring together families who have experienced the same devastating trauma and horror that is police violence. In our 11 years doing this work with impacted families, we have witnessed the special bond that often develops between impacted families, which can be healing and empowering. These strong friendships can last years and are sometimes life long. Alma mentioned that all these years she'd been praying for the girls, and had no way of getting in touch with them.
A few weeks ago a colleague of mine tagged me on a post. In the age of social media, the chances of connecting with families impacted by police homicide have increased tenfold. The post was from Madison Keller, who is the youngest daughter of Sharmel Edwards. On that post she listed the LVMPD officers involved in her mother’s homicide, and immediately the name Christopher Grivas popped out at me. That’s when I realized who Sharmel Edwards and Madison Keller were. Upon further investigation, LVMPD officer Matthew J. Cook, who is another officer involved in Sharmel’s shooting, was involved in an officer-involved shooting in 2006, wounding a 26-year old disabled man named Jeffrey Gray who was only holding a cell phone. Officer Cook claims that Jeffrey came at him violently, which Jeffrey denies.
As we have investigated countless cases, it is clear that many instances of violence committed on citizens are repeat offenses by the same officers. Due to the lack of accountability within the police departments and criminal legal system (the conviction rate for police officers who commit homicide is less than .5% in America) it is imperative that citizens participate in the amplification of the reality of police violence in the US, and implore our elected officials and government authorities to collaborate with us to end police terrorism. Please refer to this article to learn about how impacted families and their supporters can organize for legislative change.
The absolute tragic police homicide of Rafael Olivas was unjust, and the investigation was corrupted immediately after he was gunned down. Had officers Grivas and Cook been held accountable for their previous shootings of unarmed civilians, they would not have been present and involved in the shooting death of Sharmel Edwards. Without knowing the details and dynamics of the other three officers involved, we can’t know that if officers Grivas and Cook were held accountable, Sharmel might be alive today, but we are clear that it is the culture of policing and the criminal legal system that allows for these instances of police homicide to occur, frequently, with no accountability, no praxis for the police, and no justice for impacted families.
For the past few years we have been working with impacted families to tell their own stories in the written form which is an initiative of the FTP Media Lab. This piece by Madison is the debut of this new series.