TAMPA, Fla. - When the body of an unidentified teen girl was found in early May, all the Tampa Police Department had to go on was a distinctive tattoo.
Nilexia Alexander, 14, was found shot to death on Floribraska Avenue in Tampa Heights before sunrise on May 6. Ronny Walker, 44, has been indicted for first-degree murder in Nilexia's death and Robert Quincy Creed, Jr. was charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
What remains a mystery is how the teenager ended up in a car with a 44-year-old man at 3 a.m. Police said Nilexia had run away from home many times.
Video and photos posted to her social media revealed Nilexia was dog lover, had perfected the art of makeup, and enjoyed hip-hop music.
But once the camera was off, who was she, and why was she frequently running away?
Nilexia was 4 years old when Ashley Alexander decided to adopt her. Ashley had been fostering Nilexia for two years.
"Before that, she had five foster mothers in six months," Ashley said.
Though Nilexia couldn't remember being in and out of foster homes, her mother said she still lived with the trauma.
"I remember one time she did something, and she was like, 'please don't send me back, please don't send me back,'" Ashley said.
Ashley said she wouldn't have dreamed of sending her back, especially knowing Nilexia's fears. But Nilexia had questions about her birth parents, many that went unanswered.
"She would always throw in my face, 'You're not my mom,'" said Ashley. "She wanted me to look for her mom."
Ashley was eventually able to find her daughter's birth mother on social media. Nilexia was 12 years old at the time, Ashley said.
"I found mom on Facebook," said Ashley. "I [told her] ‘I found your [birth] mom.’ She was happy for the moment. At that time, it was the best person in the world to her."
It was Christmastime of 2019, and Nilexia was about to get a gift many adoptees never get: to meet her birth mom.
"That was her biggest (question)," Ashley said. "Why didn't they keep me? I didn't have an answer. Lexi was excited. She couldn't wait."
They agreed to meet at a restaurant — but ultimately, Nilexia's birth mother and father were no-shows.
"I knew she was going to cry. I would have to deal with getting home. The anger. She was going to be upset with me," Ashley said. "She didn't have anybody else to take her anger out on."
That was the turning point.
Behavioral problems escalate
After she was stood up by her own birth mother, things got even worse for Nilexia. She began running away, having tantrums and showing anger toward her adoptive mother.
"It was to the point she was yelling, 'I hate you. I hate being in your house. You're not my mother. I'll kill everybody here,'" Ashley recalled Nilexia saying.
Ashley says Nilexia's bipolar disorder exacerbated her obsession with finding out why her birth parents never tried to reconnect.
The teen was in and out of DCF programs and enrolled in a special school, but little quelled her misbehavior or obsession. Several more attempts to meet with her birth parents ended equally as painfully.
"She would go sleep in a park at night," Ashley said. "A dark park. In a rough neighborhood."
Ashley said the police brought her daughter back home more times than she could count.
"She just said she didn't want to be at my house. She wanted to find her mom and dad. She just wanted to be with her parents."
Nilexia also started getting messages from men, some of them much older.
It's unclear if 44-year-old Ronny Walker was one of them. Police have not said why she got into his car the morning of May 6, or why he allegedly turned on her.
It is possible she was messaging with Robert Creed, who has also been arrested and tied to the car they were in.
Ashley hadn't heard of either until police made the arrests.
"It won't bring my baby girl back. But it will give me some peace he is off the streets and a little bit of closure."
On April 26, three days before she ran away for the last time, Nilexia had an angry, almost prophetic fit.
"She started shaking. And then she said, ‘Mom, I hate living,’" Ashley recalled. "She said, 'I'm just tired of being here. I just want to know who I am, who is my parents.' She said, ‘I’m just ready to die. I just don't want to get killed. I don't want to be shot and killed.'"
Deadly scene on Floribraska Avenue
"They said six feet from the roadway, they found her body laying on the side," said Ashley.
Later that day, Tampa police released an image of a tattoo on the young girl's arm. That's how Ashley knew it was her daughter. She said she realized the tattoo was her daughter's while she was scrolling on news websites.
"I went numb. I started screaming and crying. I called my mom and said, ‘My baby is dead,’" Ashley recalled.
‘I never stopped loving her’
The room Nilexia had shared with her sister, Kaya, is now only half-full. While we toured it with Ashley, three months after she was killed, Ashley found something that answered a question she had on her mind since her daughter's death.
It was a drawing: "She wrote, ‘Dear mother, you were always there for me.’"
Ashley finally knows what Nilexia could never say out loud.
"I never gave up. Even when she stopped loving herself. I never stopped loving her," the grieving mom said.
Nilexia's urn now sits in her mother's living room, where Ashley will never have to wonder where her daughter is again.