After a 10-year-old girl came home from school to find her family murdered in 2011, it became one of the most high-profile unsolved killings on the Mississippi Coast in the past ten years.
Now, that girl has overcome her trauma to become salutatorian of D’Iberville High School’s 2019 graduating class.
Nina Li Brashear, who friends and family say is usually quiet and reserved, shared her story in front of thousands of people at the graduation ceremony Saturday. Although it terrified her, she was determined to inspire fellow graduates to never lose hope.
“Life became difficult and, yes, traumatic when my parents were murdered in 2011,” Brashear read in her speech.
Brashear told the Sun Herald she came home alone from school that Oct. 5. She was usually accompanied or met by her siblings, but that day was different. Her brother stayed at school for basketball practice and her sister’s bus was running late.
Brashear was dropped off as usual at her parent’s restaurant, Chinese Happiness, a popular spot on Central Avenue in D’Iberville.
“When I was dropped off the restaurant was closed, so I walked home,” Brashear said. “I went into the house and went into my mom’s room and I saw my aunt on the floor. I ran out and went to the nearest car repair shop and asked someone to call the police.”
That day Brashear and her three siblings lost their mother, father and aunt. Chen Rong and Mei Gong Li, both 40, were stabbed in their home on Seymour Avenue. Li’s older sister, 53-year-old Mei Jing Li, was also killed in the home. Eight years later their murders are unsolved.
“Even though the loss of my parents was a very dark time in my life, I must tell you there is always hope. Always a new day,” Brashear read.
Having no other family in the area, Nina’s first grade teacher, Allison Brashear, and her husband Deen stepped up to take in the four children.
“My hope came when a former teacher of mine and her husband, a pastor, felt led to bring us into their home,” she said.
“My wife taught Nina and her sister, Anna, at D’Iberville Elementary School,” Deen Brashear, Nina’s adoptive father, said. “We knew the family and ate at their family’s restaurant frequently.
“That’s when we got the tragic news. We just knew we needed to get those children into our home. We went the next morning to be fingerprinted and had our background checks done.”
Two years later, Nina, Carlos, Anna and Joseph were officially adopted by the Brashears.
“We knew from day one we wanted to adopt them.” he said. The four additions made seven children for the family.
Through the Brashear’s opening their home to Nina and her siblings, she said that her new family is what gave her hope. That’s the message she said she wanted to share with her fellow graduates.
“This proved to me that although life can be challenging, there is light at the end of very dark times.” Brashear said.
“Even though your trials may not be the same as mine, there are difficulties for you as well. Bad things happen to all people, but I believe that triumph and victory and being able to overcome is in the grasp of all of us.”
Brashear said that her faith played a large role in her life and in her family’s life. She read Jeremiah 29:11 in her speech, a verse she said is one of her favorites.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”
As a new chapter for Brashear begins, she plans to attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Although she’s not sure what the future holds for her, she says that her journey has prepared her for any challenges that may lie ahead.
“I have learned that is is important to look past your circumstances and work hard in all aspects of life,” she said. “Be encouraged. You too need to find your source of strength and hope as I did.”