Kewhan Dickerson winces when kids ask about his family.
Dickerson, a kids' counselor at YMCA Denver, said the youngsters he works with like to ask about his life. When they ask if he has siblings, he says yes, he had a sister.
“I start flashing back,” said Dickerson, 28.
Dickerson's sister, Keleshia Nash, was shot and killed by Andrew O'John in a north Littleton apartment in September 2018.
O'John, 21, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for Nash's death on Jan. 17 — 12 years for reckless manslaughter, and 18 years for assault with a deadly weapon, to be served concurrently. In exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors dropped a first-degree murder charge. The district attorney's office declined to comment on the case.
Nash, 22 when she died, and O'John had been dating for a few weeks on Sept. 26, 2018, according to testimony at a March 2019 court hearing.
That afternoon, O'John got mad after seeing a photo on Nash's phone of her and her ex-boyfriend, O'John later told investigators, and the couple spent the evening drinking and arguing.
O'John shot Nash around midnight, according to court testimony. She died two days later at a hospital.
Dickerson said Nash's death robbed him of her powerful, sometimes troubling spirit.
“If you were a friend, she'd go to extremes for you,” Dickerson said. “If you wanted to go do something, she'd be the first to say 'let's go.' If you were in a fight, she'd be the first in your corner.”
Nash and Dickerson spent their early years with their mother, Kisha, Dickerson said. Nash's dad left when she was young, and with Kisha suffering from lupus, the siblings had each other to lean on.
Dickerson recalled when he and his little sister would reenact scenes from Disney movies in their one-bedroom apartment.
“The Lion King, Toy Story — we knew all the lines,” Dickerson said. “We were super close. She looked up to me. We meant everything to each other.”
When Nash was 11, she walked into her mother's bedroom and found her dead.
The siblings went to live with their grandma, CeCe, but Nash was never the same, her brother said.
“She started acting out,” Dickerson said. “She was seeking help. She felt like nobody understood her.”
Still, Dickerson and his sister shared a strong connection.
“We were like yin and yang,” Dickerson said. “She needed me to tell her to calm down and not overreact. I needed her to tell me to defend myself, to express myself instead of hiding it.”
As Nash grew older, she sought male attention, Dickerson said.
“Growing up without a dad, she was trying to fill that void in her life, I think,” he said. “She started living on the wild side, and would date guys on the wrong side of crime.”
Nash's lifestyle got her into trouble, court records show, and at times she faced charges for shoplifting, disturbing the peace and marijuana possession. Dickerson began to drift apart from his sister.
Through it all, though, the siblings shared a devotion to their family, and to grandma CeCe, whom they called Nana.
In the months before Nash died, CeCe, suffering from pulmonary hypertension, took a turn for the worse. The family took turns staying with her, helping her eat, use the bathroom and move around her home.
A month before Nash was killed, she left to attend a court hearing during one of her shifts with CeCe, Dickerson said. CeCe died in the hours Nash was away.
Nash was crushed, and soon fell into a depression.
“She said she wanted to be with mom and Nana,” Dickerson said. “She started drinking more. But it started bringing us back together. She would talk about trying to get out of the life she was in.
“In the last couple weeks, she was trying to pick herself up. She bought a car and started paying down her court fees. She wanted to go back to school. She wanted to be a veterinarian. Before we'd hang up the phone, we'd say, 'Let's do it for Nana.'”
More than a year after Nash was killed, Dickerson said he's starting to grasp that his sister is gone.
“I was just numb that first year,” Dickerson said. “Our family's taking this day by day. Holidays are still pretty tough.”
Dickerson said he's trying to carry on and live well in honor of his sister. After losing three of the most important women in his life, Dickerson said he tries to be a comforting presence for other grieving people.
“I need to stay strong,” he said.
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