Aja Robinson was working two jobs and saving money to move into a new apartment – a place of her own.
And Jeremy Mickens “loved Aja hard,” his mother Mary Mickens said Sunday, adding “I never thought that he would do something like this.”
All of that ended Friday just before dawn, when Mickens, 25, of Faraway Drive shot and killed Robinson, 23, in a parking lot on North Main Street before shooting himself in the head.
On Sunday, Robinson’s family comforted themselves with memories of a woman whose warmth was infectious, and who cared deeply about her family, worked hard to take care of herself and others and was a light in their lives.
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In Sumter, Mary Mickens had a house full of people who came to console her in a time of complex grief: of losing a son and a woman she considered a daughter, and of anger toward her son for taking both of them away.
The two families’ explanations of what happened paint a picture of a young woman stuck between her intimacy with Jeremy Mickens, a longtime boyfriend, and a newer love interest.
Jeremy Mickens held her on a pedestal and had grown possessive, Robinson’s family said.
Mary Mickens said her son was a very loving person and worried too much about Robinson.
Mary Mickens said she told her son, who called her regularly to talk about his relationship, that maybe he should break up with Robinson.
Mary Mickens recalls telling her son: “If you’re going to be worrying yourself to death about where Aja is going and what Aja is doing, maybe you need to break up with her. She isn’t going to remember to call you all the time. You can’t place that on somebody.”
Jeremy Mickens was going back to school at ITT Technical Institute to study computers, his mother said. He previously worked as a heating and air-conditioning repairman, a skill he honed in the U.S. Air Force where he served for less than three years.
Robinson, her family says, was in transition.
An assistant manager at the Dollar Tree and a supermarket in the St. Andrews Road area, Robinson was saving for her big move into a new apartment, and her first go at living on her own.
The Middle College High School graduate also used her money to help her family.
“She hated missing work. She always wanted to be a supporter,” her sister Imani Robinson said.
Imani, 14, said her sister always made sure they had food and often would come home with groceries.
Aja Robinson’s mother, Lisa Robinson, said her daughter bought her a new couch because, Aja told her, “You never in your life had anything brand new.”
Robinson also was “notorious” for rescuing animals, her family said. She would come home “holding something furry in her hands, trying to convince her mom it followed her home,” said her grandmother Sara Finley.
A complement to her big heart, Aja Robinson also was a beauty, her family said.
“Unaware of her own physical impact” on others, she would walk in the room and heads would turn, and she would say, “Nanna, I don’t know why they do that,” Finley said.
But as a child, Robinson was small and underweight for her age, suffering from a “failure to thrive,” her mother said.
By 4 years old she grew into a “bony macaroni,” her mother called her, and was leaving her mark in the refrigerator in trails of icing removed from cupcakes with conspicuously narrow fingers, candy wrappers left on the counter, or a whole bowl of chicken wings dispatched, her mother said.
Always nurturing those around her, Robinson at 8 years old became like a mother to her newborn sister Imani after their mother fell ill.
Her cousins and siblings, who gathered at her house on Lakeside Avenue Sunday, described Robinson as go-lucky – maybe a little “ditsy” at times, they said affectionately – but full of life and willing to go without sleep to spend time catching up with the people she loved.
Robinson’s cousin Kiara-Rosi Finley, 31, who, along with other family, happened to be visiting from Boston last week, said that text messages she received from Robinson showed the troubles with Jeremy Mickens accelerating the night before her death.
Finley, through tears, read them aloud for the family to hear: One read, “All I wanted was to be free and to love.”