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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A year ago last week, Nicole Abram was in her bedroom watching TV when she heard a knock at her front door. She hadn’t been expecting anyone.
It was early afternoon on Sept. 8, 2021. As Abram made her way to the door of her northeast Grand Rapids home, she had no way of knowing she was enjoying the last few seconds of life as she knew it.
“I didn’t recognize the person (at the door) for a minute until she said, ‘You’ve got to get to Marissa’s house,'” Abram recalled.
It was Abram’s across-the-street neighbor, the one whose family knew Dae Dae, Abram’s daughter’s boyfriend.
“Dae Dae shot Marissa,” the neighbor exclaimed.
Not possible, Abram remembered thinking.
“Me and my son looked at each other and we said, ‘This is crazy. No. Marissa’s at work,'” Abram recalled, stammering before they jumped in the car.
Abram’s daughter, Marissa Valdez, lived nearby with her boyfriend Dae Dae Franklin and their two children, Amir, 3, and Amirah, 2. Valdez was four months pregnant with the couple’s third child. Franklin and Valdez, both 24, had been looking forward to learning the baby’s gender in three weeks.
“I NEED TO BE WITH HER”
It took Abram and her son, Myles Valdez, three minutes to get to her daughter’s apartment on Burke Avenue NE near Diamond Avenue.
“We didn’t believe it until we started pulling up,” recalled Abram, catching her breath as she recalled the excruciating pain of that moment. “There’s firetrucks and ambulances and police cars. So I pull into the parking lot and me and my son take off, going to my daughter’s house.”
A Grand Rapids police officer intercepted them.
“This awesome lady officer, her name was Amanda, she grabbed me. I said, ‘I gotta get in there. I don’t want her to be by herself. I need to be with her.’ And the officer helped me. She said, ‘I’m a mom, too. You can’t go in there. The police — she’s not by herself,'” Abram remembered the officer saying.
“I said, ‘Please let me go.’ They wouldn’t let me go,” Abram said.
It was at that point, she said, that she realized she didn’t know where her grandchildren were.
“‘Where’s my grandbabies?'” she said she asked the officer. “She said, ‘They’re over on the other side of the parking lot with his mother.'”
Abram hardly knew Franklin’s mom.
“I’d only seen her once. I didn’t know who she was… So I ran over there and I grabbed both (children) and she just looks at me and she’s crying,” Abram remembered through tears of her own.
“‘I don’t know what to think,'” Abram said Franklin’s mother told her.
Before he dialed 911, Franklin called his mom to ask her to come get the children. Then, at 1:19 p.m., he summoned police.
“I KILLED MY GIRLFRIEND”
“911 emergency,” answered a dispatcher at the Grand Rapids Police Department Emergency Communications Center.
“Hi, um, I need medical attention,” Franklin said.
“I need everybody. I just made a big mistake,” he continued. “I need an ambulance. I need everybody, please. Oh my God.”
After getting the address, the dispatcher asked his name.
“My name is Dealeyon Franklin,” he said.
“What did you do? What’s going on? … What mistake?” the dispatcher questioned, referring to Franklin’s initial statement.
“With my girlfriend. Oh. My. God,” Franklin continued.
“Is she there with you?” asked the dispatcher.
“What happened to her?”
“Oooooooh,” Franklin moaned. “I killed my girl.”
“You killed your girlfriend?” repeated the dispatcher.
“Yes, I did,” said Franklin, in between tearful whimpers.
“Are you there with her?” the dispatcher questioned.
“Yes, I am.”
“How did that happen?”
“It was an argument… I had my gun on the dresser and she tried to reach so I grabbed it and I shot her,” Franklin said.
“You’re sure she’s dead?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes, I am. I cannot believe this is happening right now. I cannot believe it. I can’t believe it. Oooooooh.”
Later in the seven-minute call to 911, Franklin claimed the shooting was an accident, though crime scene evidence would soon disprove that. Franklin told the dispatcher he shot his girlfriend, Marissa Valdez, “at least three times.” The autopsy showed it was more than that.
“He shot her nine times,” Nicole Abram said.
Abram spoke to Target 8 nine months after her daughter’s murder. Target 8 investigators reached out to her at the recommendation of Rachel Wustman, who prosecutes domestic abuse cases in Kent County.
“They really want to bring awareness about domestic violence issues,” Wustman said of Valdez’s family. “Even if you can help one person to say something, notice something, come forward so it doesn’t happen again. They want some light to be brought into this area as well so this doesn’t happen to other families.”
In Franklin’s interview with Grand Rapids Police detectives, he said his two young children were in the room when the shooting happened.
“Why would somebody shoot somebody that many times with their babies right there?” Abram said, choking back a sob.
Crime scene photos show a toddler-size mattress and playpen right next to the bed where Valdez’s body lay. Franklin said the children had been napping when the shooting happened and he claimed he was able to remove them before they saw their mother’s body.
“It seemed like it took forever for them to bring her out,” Abram remembered. “Just like in the movies. Here comes the stretcher with my daughter in a body bag. We wouldn’t leave until she left.”
“HE FOOLED ME”
If there were warning signs in the young couple’s relationship, Abram said everyone missed them.
“The Dae Dae I knew, I couldn’t see him doing that,” she said. “If they would have told me at the time it was somebody else, that’s what I would have believed. I wouldn’t have believed it was him. So he fooled me.”
The couple had lived together for four and a half years, though they had broken up and reconciled twice. There were no known reports of prior violence, no calls to police and no safety concerns expressed to family and friends.
“We loved him,” Abram said of Franklin. “We’re having a little bit of difficulty with that part of it. Because we did love him like a son… I’m sure we didn’t flash through his mind when it happened.”
Abram said the family had always worked hard to include Franklin, who was quiet and socially awkward but respectful.
“We all went fishing and that was his first time fishing. And he was a grown man — first time fishing,” Abram repeated incredulously. “He just missed out on a lot of that. Maybe he just didn’t know how to adapt to our family.”
In pictures of family gatherings, Franklin can be seen in the background, slightly removed from the family’s jubilant celebrations.
“(Marissa) loves family gatherings,” Abram said. “We’d go out to my sister’s. They have a trampoline and a pool. All the kids would play. She had a movie projector outside and everything. (Marissa) was always there. My two youngest, Marissa and Myles. They always loved family gatherings. They would plan them.”
Abram said her daughter was loving, caring and a great mother to her children, Amir and Amirah.
“Marissa was funny, too. Really funny. Sarcastic funny. That’s our thing in the family. Very sarcastic,” recalled Abram, who said she called Valdez her “spitfire child.”
“She was very sort of up in your face, very loud. All my kids are. No volume control,” Abram said with a laugh.
Valdez was exceptionally industrious, too, working full-time as a medical assistant and dreaming of one day operating her own online boutique.
Franklin mostly stayed home with the children.
“He had it made. I don’t know what happened… She took care of him, her babies, herself. Kept a full-time job, had insurance,” Abram listed. “He never did anything. Why didn’t he just shoot himself if he didn’t want to be around her?”
STRESS OVER RELATIONSHIP, MONEY FUELED ‘DEMONS’
In a two-hour interview with police detectives, Franklin said he and Valdez argued “all the time” about their relationship and bills.
“Like, we’ve been so stressed, me and her,” Franklin told investigators, adding the couple was $1,000 behind on a credit card.
“Just every, every bill. It’s, like, you pay one and just, like, there’s another one right there,” said Franklin, who added Valdez had recently taken out a small loan. “(Marissa) just expects me to just, you know, pull money out of my pocket and just, like, pay it. And it’s like, I’m not a drug dealer… I’m not the richest person in the world. I don’t have these things.”
Franklin told investigators he felt like he could never live up to Valdez’s expectations.
“When it came to me, it was just like I just didn’t exist or somethin’… It felt like the only reason why she was living with me was because I was a good dude. She had somebody she was always talking to. Always. I let it go. I don’t care. That’s just me,” Franklin said.
Valdez’s family believes she may have been preparing to leave Franklin and he could not handle it. Though Franklin did not say a break-up was imminent, he did mention, unsolicited, that having to pay child support was one of his “biggest fears.”
In his police interview, Franklin mentioned his girlfriend and his mom were the only two people in his life.
“Other than my mom, I got nobody. Other than Marissa, I had nobody,” Franklin told detectives.
When he and Valdez argued, Franklin said, he would leave the apartment.
“Because I just didn’t want to get angry. So I will leave. That’s literally what I will always do. I will pack up my stuff. I will leave. So the only person I’ll have was my mom to take me in. But it started takin’ a toll on my mom. She didn’t want to go through that no more,” Franklin explained, noting his mother was already taking care of his teenage siblings, as well as his 3-year-old nephew.
“Life’s been goin’ crazy,” Franklin said at one point in the interview, apparently referring to stress over his relationship with Valdez.
“I just felt, like — I felt, like, I got, like, somethin’ like demons on me or somethin ‘ because this has been going on for so long,” he said. “I would find myself sittin’ by myself with eyes on my soul. Should I just take myself ’cause I’ll never be enough? I just wish it was me and not her. I just don’t know. “
On Sept. 8, 2021, Franklin said, he and Valdez had argued all morning, prompting him to leave the apartment twice in an effort to “cool off.”
“I really wanted to go over there and talk to my mom just to tell her how we’ve been feelin’ and stuff,” he said. “But it’s — I could never find a way to tell her… If I would’ve talked to my mom about it, probably wouldn’t be sitting here in front of y’all right now.”
NINE SHOTS “LIKE A REACTION”
When Franklin returned to the apartment the final time, he said his Glock pistol was on a chair in the bedroom. He told investigators he kept the gun nearby at night because he was paranoid about break-ins.
“(Marissa) was layin’ on the bed right here. I’m sittin’ next to her. The gun is in between both of us,” Franklin told them.
Though there’s no evidence to support it, Franklin claimed Valdez grabbed for the gun in the middle of an argument and they began to wrestle for control.
“Because of the way we was fightin’ over the gun, I think the first one hit her in the face,” Franklin said.
Detectives asked him to describe the second shot.
“I don’t know,” said Franklin. “I was just so in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know after that first one. It was just, like, it’s all black.”
But investigators pushed Franklin further; why did he fire nine .40-caliber bullets at the mother of his children? Franklin initially told them it was “like a reaction.” Again, detectives pushed for more.
“Maybe it was just out of, like, out of fear. Out of a reaction, like, fear,” Franklin theorized. “I was grabbin’ it. The first one goes off. So, I was like — I didn’t stop. So it just like all flew together. Like there were no pauses. None of that. So, it was like, it all just — I didn’t stop, think about it, then do it. It just happened.”
Franklin said after firing the shots, he dropped the gun.
“Kinda looked at her and it was like life just snapped back into me. And my heart just like dropped. And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. This can’t be real,'” Franklin said.
On March 23, 2022, Franklin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and assault causing miscarriage, for which he’ll spend 25 to 50 years in prison.
He had no prior criminal record.
“I just want to say ‘I’m sorry’ to everybody,” Franklin said at his June 27 sentencing. “I made an emotional decision, and I definitely have to live with it every day. I just want to tell everyone that I still love them even if they do hate me. I’ll never forgive myself.”
One of Valdez’s siblings spoke on behalf of her family.
“You didn’t deserve my sister. You never did,” said Nico Valdez, standing at the podium with his brother, Myles, at his side.
Both donned T-shirts that read “I wear purple for my sister.” It was Marissa’s favorite color.
‘MORE AND MORE’ DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEATHS
While Valdez had not called police previously, her murder happened amid a significant increase in reports of domestic violence.
In Kent County alone, 11 people have died from domestic violence in 2022, including four children. That is already double the number in 2021.
Across West Michigan, 15 people have died in murder-suicides since May, including seven children.
“I don’t know if it’s COVID-related or what, but in the last couple of years, there’ve just been more and more domestic violence-related homicides in our area and I don’t think there is enough attention being put towards those,” said Rachel Wustman, the Kent County assistant prosecutor who handles domestic violence cases.
Wustman prosecuted Franklin and Richard Guichelaar, who strangled his wife, Amber Guichelaar, to death in November 2020. The Guichelaars’ baby is believed to have been in the room when the murder happened and Amber Guichelaar was pregnant, just like Valdez. While no one knows if Franklin had been violent prior to murdering Valdez, Amber Guichelaar had left a note detailing her husband’s violent outbursts in the console of her minivan.
“I think the nature of domestic violence, it’s kept quiet, and people do a really good job — both the perpetrators and then the victims — of keeping it quiet,” said Wustman, who was not referring to Marissa Valdez’s case.
Wustman is trying to normalize conversations about domestic violence, urging people to ask questions if they notice controlling behavior. There are West Michigan agencies that work to prevent domestic violence and help those who experience it.
Nicole Abram wishes, too, that she had known there was a gun in her daughter’s apartment.
“I didn’t even know he had a gun,” Abram said. “My kids knew but I didn’t know. That’s the kind of stuff they kept from me, you know? If he didn’t buy a gun, my daughter would still be alive… If you ain’t got a gun in the house, you can’t shoot nobody. But she kept that from me. She knew how I felt about guns. I would have thrown it away or turned it in, if I’d known about it. Not around my grandbabies.”