M&M's for Taji

Don Barone
Taji Renee Cross driving a boat.

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"Sometimes I feel like I don't belong anywhere ..."

Dateline: Greyhawkin'

One by one.

Perfectly aligned.

From least favorite, to most.

Reds at one end, greens at the other.

One by one.

They were picked and eaten.

A time frame determined only by the size of the bag of candy.

"Boy you talk about a child with an appetite."

James Niggemeyer is sitting in the captain's chair under the flat screen in the db/bb/rv. Sandy, his wife, is sitting on the other side of the dinette table from me, smiling as James continues ...

"At this Cracker Barrel near our house, this one time Taji pretty much ordered everything on the menu (Sandy is laughing) and I told her that if she ate everything she ordered that I would stand on my head."

Sandy: "Go ahead tell, db ... go ahead."

"Well she did, and when we went home I stood on my head ... you know ... after a few tries. My goodness I haven't thought about that in years, how old ..."

Sandy: "Oh ... I don't know I think Taji was around 16 or 17 then."

Taji, the child with the love of M&M's, is a young lady that James and Sandy Niggemeyer tried so hard to adopt.

And well they should have. I would have tried, too. As most of us would.

Taji's story is one about the animals that live amongst us, monsters disguised as people. Male by anatomy only, a fistful of cowards with women in range.

Sandy Niggemeyer, who knows Taji best, can explain:

"Taji was just dropped off at the ministry for unwed mothers, where I'm on staff. She was 15. Pregnant. Brutally raped at the age of 14, we found her at our doorstep, and she had nowhere else to go."

"I remember those first days, weeks, months. She was an invisible child. She would be so scared she would be in a room, but not really there. Invisible."

James: "In fact, Taji and Sandy were both pregnant at the same time, that's when we had our son Daniel."

Sandy: "I was her labor and delivery coach, but I told her that if I did that and I started to feel contractions, she had better move over in that bed because we were going to have both them babies side by side."

James: "But after Taji had the baby, she had no where to go, no place to live, so she moved in with us, ... db ... it was a two bedroom house in Van, Texas, so just like that it went from just me and Sandy, to three kids almost OVERNIGHT. Later, she moved into Daniel's room, her bed is still there."

As are Taji's clothes.

As are Taji's mystery books and the flashlight she read them at night with.

As is a bag of M&M's.

One by one.

From least favorite, to most.

Always laid out in a straight line.

By Taji.

Who's bed in 4-year-old Daniel's room is still waiting for Taji.

Who will never return.

Taji was murdered, this past Tuesday.

Taji Renee Cross 1/19/90-4/27/2010.

RIP Taji.


"... and it's gonna take so long for me to get to somewhere ...."

When the Peoria, Ill., police entered the tiny blood splattered apartment, they found a young, 20-year-old woman, raped, beaten and strangled.

It was Taji.

James had just come off the water of Pickwick Lake, when Sandy called.

"I had just pulled the boat out of the water and was about 30 minutes away when my cell phone rang, and Sandy told me that Taji had been killed. And then I lost the cell phone signal for 10 or so minutes, and I just couldn't believe it."

James had taken Taji into his home, into his family, into his heart, "All she knew about her biological father was that he was white, and drove a yellow Cadillac."

"We told her that it didn't matter whether we could adopt her or not, that she was ours, that she would always have a home with us, and that I would walk her down the aisle."

The very first Father's Day Card Taji ever made was for James.

Standing 6 foot 2, you knew that James was crushed from head to toe.

"Normally on the water everything goes away and I just focus on fishing, but this happened to Taji, and here I'm at a fishing tournament and I just felt like I had a hole in my stomach."

It was James who took Taji fishing with him, and who taught her how to drive his Bass boat. Who would send him text messages.

"Taji wanted to go to college and become an OB/GYN and open up a clinic for unwed mothers. In fact I think about the only thing she watched on TV were those babies and birthing shows on cable."

As of now, no one has been arrested or charged in Taji's murder. The child she had when she was 15 years old was, as Sandy says, "Was adopted in a placement out of love, not out of rejection."

Meaning, Taji loved her baby girl, but knew the best thing for the child, was not to be raised by a child herself.

Today that baby is now almost 5 years old and is in a loving family.

Saturday, in Peoria, Taji was buried.

The service, about the same time that James and Sandy sat and told me Taij's story.

James: "I remember that Taji never cried much, the only time I ever saw her cry was when we told her that we wouldn't be allowed to adopt her."

Sandy: "You know, would I do it again? (She looks at James, then at me) I would db, I would ... it's never a waste to love someone."

All James could do was to just lower his head.

One by one.

Perfectly aligned.

From least favorite, to most.

There is a line of M&M's for Taji.

And the line never ends.


"... and it's a long, long way to heaven but I gotta get there ... "
"... Can you send an angel."

Prelude To A Kiss
Alicia Keys

— db

 

Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.

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