Mother of woman killed in Providence grapples with grief, social media and anonymous reward

It was the day before gunfire on the street took the life of 24-year-old Miya Brophy-Baermann.

But well before shots were fired, the forces of the internet-driven Information Age were helping to set up the tableaux of grief that was to come for Miya’s mother.

She and her mother, Michelle, talked as the family drove home from a visit with her brother and sister-in-law in New Hampshire. They had forgotten the middle name of her brother’s wife.

Miya relied on her smart phone to get the name. Along the way, thanks to the bounty of information on the Internet, she learned something else: Another woman by the same name as her sister-in-law had been the victim of a homicide.

Miya’s mother was transported. She imagined the agony of losing Miya in such a way.

Miya Brophy-Baermann

Hours later, on Aug. 1, the police came to Michelle Brophy-Baermann's door. Her own ordeal began. But the earlier foreshadowing, courtesy of both happenstance and modern media technology, was part of her experience.

“Your imagination only takes you so far,” Miya’s mother said Monday afternoon.

A Rhode Island College political science professor with expertise in media culture, she reflected on that episode and others like it that she’s encountered on her path of grief.

The information environment of the 2020s has been part of the process, particularly recent online fundraising trends.

Miya Brophy-Baermann with her brother, Belamy, at his wedding.

Emergence of anonymous reward

Brophy-Baermann was answering a reporter’s questions Monday because, earlier in the day, radio host John DePetro had announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever shot and killed Miya on Olney Street early in the morning on Aug. 1.

The announcement of such a large reward in a homicide case has introduced something new to Rhode Island’s criminal justice system.

To qualify for the reward, the information must be “accurate” and “direct” and “deemed crucial,” the show says. If multiple people provide such information, the reward will be divided equally among those people, says the show, which describes itself as an “arbiter” of the reward.

The situation raises lots of questions that DePetro didn’t answer thoroughly during a brief email exchange. Where exactly is the money? Is the money donated or pledged? If the case goes unsolved for say, 20 years, how would the money be disbursed if someone provides the information and breaks the case?

“Twenty years from now?” DePetro said in an email. “I admittedly am in new territory here. I will tell you the reward is very real.”

The donors “are real and have been vetted,” he said.

Miya was a speech pathologist with expertise in communicative disorders. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she had a master's degree in speech-language pathology from Northeastern University.

Remembering Miya Brophy-Baermann: Family of 24-year-old Providence shooting victim remember her as their 'light'

Miya Brophy-Baermann at her graduation from Northeastern University.

On the last night of July, the same day the family had driven home to Warwick from New Hampshire, she had put her pajamas on, her mother says. But a friend called. She changed into jeans and headed out late.

After spending time with friends late into the night, she was outside a house on Olney Street in Providence, where she continued talking to a friend.

A car drove past, carrying some speed, and shots ripped through the night, killing Brophy-Baermann, according to police, who say the shooting, at about 3:30 a.m., did not appear to be targeted.

The power of social media

Miya's mother says she got the news at 7 a.m. that morning.

As she grieved, a colleague suggested establishing a GoFundMe page.

She says she hadn’t feltmuch interest in such a mechanism for covering funeral expenses. But she warmed up to a fund that might do some good and honor her daughter at the same time.

In five days, she says, the page, dubbed Miya’s Voice, raised $50,000.

“That was really something else,” she says. “We just couldn't believe it. It was overwhelming.”

The fund has more than $60,000, and Brophy-Baermann says she expects it to reach $67,000, which would be enough to afford two “nice-sized scholarships.”

It poignantly demonstrated the power of social media, which also presents some downsides for a grieving mother.

“It's very hard to look at social media anymore because everybody's lives go on,” she says. “They have their families and the holidays. I have to avoid that as much as possible. I just focus on Miya's Voice.”

Last month, on Nov. 3, came an opportunity to talk on DePetro’s show.

“Politically we couldn’t be further apart,” says Miya’s mother.

But she says she felt DePetro asked some good questions when she and her husband first spoke to him. On the show they went.

Later last month, she was stunned to hear about the emergence of $100,000 in reward money.

“All kinds of people … were touched by what happened to Miya in some way and want to do something,” she says.

She says she does not want to make assumptions about anyone’s politics simply because they listen to DePetro’s show.

It’s possible, she says, these feelings about what happened to Miya come from both sides of the political divide.

“I would love if Miya's death could lead to some kind of conversation about guns, gun violence, polarization, media and how they talk about things,” Brophy Baermann says. “Violence. There is so much wrapped up in Miya's murder.”

Black Lives Matter RI PAC: Providence shooting scene is site of vigil, stage for politics

Miya Brophy-Baermann in scrubs.

But she remembers her initial desire to avoid politicizing her daughter's death. And so much money already seems to flow into the gun-control movement and without much impact, she says.

“We wanted something positive,” she recalls.

She and her husband also want whoever killed Miya to be held accountable.

“They took my daughter and they destroyed my life,” she says. “Her life and our lives.”

Providence police Detective Maj. David Lapatin says investigators are ready to work with information that leads to Miya's killer.

Anyone with such information can contact Providence police Detective Sgt. Timothy McGann at 401-243-6236.

More: Jurors find 22-year-old Central Falls man killed during roadway exchange

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI murder victim's mother grapples with aftermath of daughter's killing

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