Na’Toniyah Mason’s last memory of her mother was helping her pick out an outfit for the block party: a black jumpsuit, bangle-sized hoop earrings and a shimmering diamond necklace. The 12-year-old raised her mother’s phone and snapped a picture. It now sits in the family’s living room as a remembrance.
A stray bullet killed 36-year-old Natisha Covert one year ago — on June 21, 2020. The mother of eight was shot at a block party in Waldo amid the COVID-19 pandemic. About a year later, the Alachua County Sheriff Office’s investigative team has interviewed more than 100 people and has not found the killer, said spokesperson Art Forgey.
The case is still open and with wounds still unhealed, family and friends yearn for justice.
“Right as we were saying that, we heard gunshots.”
Tai Bey, a 37-year-old tax office receptionist and close family friend, attended the block party with Covert and her sister Karimah Bey.
The three had no intentions of going to Waldo on June 20, Bey said. They initially planned to attend a Saturday concert in Palatka and go to Wildwood for Father’s Day on Sunday. Covert, known for sporting designer brands like Chanel and Gucci, drove to South Florida earlier that afternoon to purchase a Shane Justin jumpsuit, a Black-owned brand, for the concert.
As they entered Covert’s Mercedes around 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., Bey recalls that Covert mentioned a block party flyer she viewed on Facebook.
Bey, who was a native of Oakland, California, said Covert introduced her to block parties, and never felt comfortable at them. She raised concerns about the influx of people, the lack of metal detectors and the unknown rivalries between attendees.
Despite her gut instincts, Bey relented.
Covert cruised around Gainesville making pit stops at hangout spots like a liquor store and a gas station, before heading to Waldo around 10 p.m.
As the car eased into the grass, Bey watched as party goers swelled the streets. As Saturday night creeped into Sunday morning, about 400 to 500 cars lined the 14100 Block of Northeast 150th Avenue. Headlights illuminated the roadways, while loud music escaped through swung open doors and popped trunks, pulsating the cement.
Around 2 a.m., Bey told Covert that she felt tired and wished to leave, but Covert urged to stay.
“Right as we were saying that, we heard gunshots,” she said.
As crowds lunged to the ground to escape the gunfire, a bullet struck the 36-year-old mother at around 3:34 a.m. and 3:39 a.m.
“I was screaming, I was crying, I didn’t know what to do,” Bey said. “I was in shock.”
At least eight Alachua County sheriff officers reported to the scene and found Covert in the back of a Jeep, owned by someone who tried to help her. Officers struggled to perform CPR and provide medical aid, as crowds became aggressive, and pulled them away from Covert, according to a media release from the sheriff’s office. When officers finally broke through the tsunami-like crowd, they began to perform life-saving procedures and rushed her to UF Health Shands Hospital, where she later died.
Forgey added that the case has been complicated with so many people involved and differing views about what led up to the shooting.
Narian Proctor, 36, was also shot in the buzzing swarm of panic, rushed to Columbia County Hospital and then taken to Shands Hospital. Proctor has since recovered from his injuries, Forgey said.
“We were each other’s backbone.”
After Covert’s death, Bey fled to Daytona. She said she wanted to escape the memory of losing her best friend.
“It was just so weird from being with someone every single day and talking to them every single day to never seeing or talking to them again,” Bey said.
Bey met Covert at a 2018 PK Yonge vs. Wildwood High School basketball game, and the two became inseparable.
They were both young mothers; Bey has six children and had her first child at 16. Covert has eight children and had her first child at 15. The two friends celebrated May birthdays and have younger sons who play sports. Bey’s 20-year-old son, Tre Mann, who played as a point and shooting guard at UF, announced he was entering the NBA draft in March, while Covert’s 21-year-old son, Pernell Sylvester, plays football for Edward Waters College in Jacksonville.
“Every home game Tre had at UF, it was me and her. Her son’s football games, it was me and her,” Bey said. “We were each other’s backbone.”
The two traveled to Miami last summer for their birthdays and made future plans to have matching houses in Jonesville and Mercedes’s with license plates that read the “D’usse Girls,” a nickname Covert used that originates from the cognac.
“She always said she’s going to have her big robe on with her heels and a cigar, that’s not lit, and just be sitting on the front porch,” Bey said with a laugh.
While some days are harder than others, she surrounds herself with Covert’s children to help her stay strong.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The fifth oldest, Na’Toniyah Mason, said her mother had a loving, caring nature accompanied with an eruptive laugh and explosive character.
Na’Toniyah remembers waking up on Christmas morning to neatly wrapped gifts and silky bows spilling out from under the tree and into the living room. Her mother gave her a gold necklace with a teddy bear pendant for Christmas in 2019 that only the two of them had touched. Although she broke it in November, she holds on to it as a token of her mother’s love.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me — an unforgettable person,” Na’Toniyah said.
Perry Sylvester III, an 18-year-old Weber International University freshman, remembers his mother as one of the “crazy ones” who would cheer hysterically from the crowd. In 10th grade, Sylvester played basketball for PK Yonge High School. During a losing game, his mother strutted down from the stands and onto the court during half-time, encouraging him to “tighten up” and “stay focused.” By the end of the night, he made 28 points, more than any other player, and led his team to victory.
“After half time, I just came back playing like a whole other person,” Sylvester said.
In the fall, he struggled to play games as his mother was not there to cheer him on. He felt his personality hardened and he stopped showing emotions, as he began to focus on school and care for his younger siblings.
“I did grow up quick and mature pretty fast,” he said.
The eldest, Pernell Sylvester, became the next adult in the house, second to his aunt and uncle, Sheena and Adrian Brown, who watched the kids. His aunt and uncle could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.
His siblings looked up to him; he credits his mother for pushing him to avoid gang violence and to strive for excellence. While in college, he visits often to check on his family.
“That’s one thing my mom used to tell us, she said, ‘if I ever pass away, y’all stay together,’” he said.
His brother, Perry Sylvester got the words “Long Live Natisha D’usse” stenciled on his forearm.
Pernell Sylvester got a similar tattoo with her name on his chest and right arm in January. As the most important person in his life, he looks at the tattoo when he misses her.
Since her death, he started a GoFundMe page on June 25 that raised more than $10,000 for her memorial.
Natisha Covert’s crown embellished with diamonds and a cross adorned with periwinkle roses stood at the entrance of Newberry’s Destiny Community Church. On that early July afternoon, guests poured into the church with the face of Natisha Covert printed on T-shirts, face masks and hand-held paper fans. Golden-framed pictures of her eight children dangled from the stage as a casket detailed in gold and black hung open.
Perry Sylvester cradled his 7-year-old sister, Ha’Riyah, as a tear streamed down her face. He kept a close eye on his other siblings Ha’Laiyah, 6, and Na’Toniyah, 12, as friends and family approached them. He said his mother’s death hits his younger sisters the hardest and that they now must rely on each other.
A year later, he and his siblings not only want justice for their mother but to make her proud as she watches from above.
“We got to keep her name alive,” he said.