For Wilmington resident Ronald Simpson, 44, it was love at first sight.
"I met Stephanie one day 15 years ago when she was visiting her sister next door," recalls Simpson, who works for One Way Outreach, a nonprofit organization that mentors at-risk youth. "She came over to my house to talk and I asked her out. Three months later on Valentine's Day, I asked her to marry me."
Simpson laughs when he recalls his courtship to Stephanie Latrice Smith. "I didn't have enough money to purchase the ring, so I had placed her ring on layaway. So when I proposed to her, I had to settle on showing her the layaway slip."
Simpson said that Stephanie was his best friend. "We had our fights and our ups and downs, but we were happy. We were going to renew our vows in March," he said.
But Simpson's world was shattered on Sunday, Dec. 8 when he received a frantic phone call from his stepson Dedric. "He was yelling on the cell phone that Stephanie and my teenage daughters, Shatera and Breyanna, had been shot in a drive-by," recalls Simpson.
"My wife said she was going over to my stepson's Dedric's house to deliver a cheesecake to him and his pregnant girlfriend. My two daughters got in the car and decided to take the trip, too.
When Stephanie was about to leave Dedric's house, he asked Stephanie to drive him to the gas station at Hoover Street and Century Boulevard to buy something."
As they left the gas station, two unidentified suspects described as driving a champagne colored Maxima or Altima vehicle turned on their high beams and began to tailgate Stephanie's car.
As Stephanie and her two daughters stopped at a stoplight, the suspects in the champagne-colored car suddenly pulled out guns and opened fire. A spray of bullets pierced Stephanie's neck, killing her instantly.
Shatera was shot in the shoulder, elbow and twice in the leg. A bullet shattered Breyanna's jaw and traveled down to her neck.
Dedric, 21, was not hit. The suspects fled.
Paramedics had rushed both daughters to Harbor-UCLA after the shooting. Simpson then received word that his wife had died. Shatera and Breyanna were shot but were in stable condition.
Simpson said, at the press conference, that he had yet to tell his stepdaughter, Shatera, that her mother was murdered. "She just lost her real mother a few months ago," he said. "Since she's still in the hospital, hearing this (news) will devastate her."
During a press conference at Harbor-UCLA hospital, Simpson and other family members expressed their grief, unable to comprehend the senselessness of Stephanie's death and the wounding of two of their relatives.
"I'm so hurt this happened, especially since this tragedy was committed by another black man," said Simpson. "I work with youth to keep them out of trouble, and then members of my family become victims of violence."
Detectives investigating the case are still looking for the suspects.