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Florida gay activists pay tribute to Denise King, late mother of slain Fort Lauderdale teenager

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

CRY29 VIGIL BROW CTJDenise King, a working mom turned gay-rights crusader after the Fort Lauderdale shooting death of her 17-year-old son, Simmie Williams Jr., died New Year's Eve of a heart attack.

King, 40, never knew who killed Simmie on Feb. 22, 2008, in a vacant lot off Sistrunk Boulevard.

Fort Lauderdale Police say he got into an argument with two men wearing dark clothing. Witnesses heard gunshots, and the men ran away. The case remains unsolved.

King's aunt, Rosemae Barnes of Fort Lauderdale, said Simmie's death haunted his mother.

"She always was a happy person," Barnes said Monday. "But after what happened to her son, Denise was grieving. They never found the person who killed him. That bothered her a lot. She tried not to show it because of her other kids. She tried to keep herself happy and her mind on her job."

King was born in Fort Lauderdale and graduated from Northeast High School. She studied nursing and worked in several area hospitals and nursing homes. Recently, she worked nights at a Fort Lauderdale Burger King and took nursing classes during the day, Barnes said.

A Miami Dolphins fan, King enjoyed listening to Michael Jackson music and the blues, and watching Days of Our Lives and westerns on television.

In private, she often broke down crying, her aunt said.

"It was a lot of pressure on her. She missed him," Barnes said. "Every time she spoke about him, she cried. She'd break down and cry. I'd tell her everything would be all right, just be strong and put her trust in God."

About a month ago, King complained of chest pains.

"On Christmas Eve, she went to her Aunt Rose's house and talked about the pain of not knowing what happened," said Michael Emanuel Rajner, a Broward gay activist who befriended King after Simmie's death.

Rajner said King's "smile was infectious."

"Her heart was overflowing with love. She had a memorable hug," he said. "No anger in her body. Just love – and pain."

Simmie Williams When Simmie was found dead, he was dressed as a woman in an area known for cross-dressing prostitutes. No one knew whether he identified as transgender.

"Simmie's friends asked me if I was going to dress him as a woman for the funeral. I said no. I gave birth to a boy, and my baby would be buried as a boy," King told The Miami Herald in 2008. "I don't know ... what he did or didn't do across town. What I know is that he was gay and didn't deserve to be gunned down because of who he was."

Police say they're at a standstill in the investigation, which isn't classified as a gay hate crime.

"This is a case we've worked exhaustedly. We've gone to the media several times. We've had several walks. We've asked for help several times and we're basically where we were at [two years ago]," Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa said Monday. "We still encourage anyone who knows anything to come forward."

Simmie's slaying became a "collision of race and class and sexuality and gender," said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the state's leading gay-rights group. "Denise said on more than one occasion, she lost a child and gained a community."

HAND29 VIGIL BROW CTJBroward gay activist Waymon Hudson said King was surprised at "how touched everyone in the community was at Simmie's death."

"She was very open-minded at Simmie being gay or gender nonconformist," Hudson said. ``She was a quiet woman. But she was everywhere after Simmie's death. Whenever she talked about any issue, it always went back to Simmie. If she spoke about school bullying, it was because Simmie had to leave school because he was bullied."

When Florida voters approved a statewide constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in November 2008, it "was a direct slap at her and her children," Hudson said.

In 2008, South Florida's gay community raised nearly $4,000 to assist with Simmie's funeral expenses. Now money is being raised for his mother's burial.

A fund has been established at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center/Pride Center, P.O. Box 70518, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33307-0518. Checks should be made payable to "GLCC," with ``Denise King funeral'' in the memo field.

A viewing for King will be 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at McWhite's Funeral Home, 3501 W. Broward Blvd. A service will be held 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home. Afterward, King will be buried at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Fort Lauderdale, next to her son.

King is survived by her children, Brittany, 21; Terrell, 17; Tavaris, 16; and Davaughn, 12; mother Maudie Lee of Georgia; and Brittany's son, Jamar Jr., 3.

Brittany is due to give birth to a baby boy on Feb. 22 -- the second anniversary of Simmie's death.

"She said I was bringing back Simmie," Brittany said Monday. "She always wanted to know who his killer was, and then she would be at ease."

Photos of Denise King, taken during a 2008 rally after the death of Simmie Williams Jr., by CHARLES TRAINOR JR. / Miami Herald Staff


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Phone: 954 630-1511

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I lost my brother And sister last year, So I look forward to helping any way I can.

Michelle Certonio

Hopefully they are both together and resting in peace.

Life should not be so hard in such a beautiful place.

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