For You on Your Birthday: Grieving the Murder of 8-Year-Old Hiawayi D’iland Robinson

Late last week, the worst fears of little Hiawayi D’iland Robinson’s family were recognized as law enforcement officials confirmed the body of the 3-foot tall and 45 pound minor to be found by a city worker behind an abandoned building on Rebel Road of Prichard, Al.

Hiawayi ventured from her home at St. Stephens Woods Apartments last Tuesday afternoon wearing a white and green “Hello Kitty” t-shirt to meet with a cousin living in another apartment within the complex. The pair were to discuss plans surrounding Hiawayi’s upcoming, would-be ninth birthday on today – Wednesday, Sept. 24. However, the 8-year old never returned; and on the night of Sept. 16, a missing person's report was filed with the Prichard Police Department.

The Prichard Police issued a statewide alert through the national missing children’s alert system around 4 p.m. last Wednesday, and withdrew the alert upon the finding of Hiawayi’s body around 1 p.m. of last Thursday. In response to community pushback against police not issuing an Amber Alert, interim Prichard Police Chief Michael Rowland said no alert was issued because authorities had no information on any possible abductors.

Law enforcement initially centered the search for young Hiawayi within the wooded area surrounding Robinson’s apartment complex but expanded; and as the search expanded, so did those involved. Numerous volunteers, community members, Mobile County deputies, and FBI agents (among others) aided in the search for the then thought-to-be-missing child.

Following the involvement of the FBI on last Thursday, Prichard Police released images of Hiawayi with a person of interest in a convenience store on last Wednesday. The identified woman later came forth and provided valuable information that afternoon.

State legislator Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile plans to propose a law so that “we [Alabama] can start looking for a [missing] child as soon as possible.” Figures expects to have a completed draft of the bill, entitled the “Hiawayi Alert” in honor of the slain child, by this Friday. Alabama State Rep. Napoleon Bracy lent his support of the bill on Tuesday morning.

An estimated $1 million has been spent in the search first surrounding the missing Hiawayi and now for her murderer. Additionally, another $20,000 has been offered by local businesses, non-profits and city officials for information surrounding the adolescent’s death. The reward will go to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Hiawayi's death.

Though there has not, as of yet, been an arrest or identified cause of death, hundreds of law officials are working diligently on this case, a response from law enforcement that Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich has reportedly not seen in a long time. Rich stated on Monday, “The resources are being given to making sure every stone does not go unturned in this case.”

On yesterday, groups of volunteers labored to clear debris from the site where Hiawayi’s body was found. By-passers, mourners and visitors constructed a memorial of stuffed animals, candles, and toys at the site; and the pile has continued to grow, complete with Hello Kitty stuffed animals and balloons.

Support for the family of Hiawayi has come forth from both within and outside of the community of Prichard, Alabama. The Christian Benevolent Funeral Home announced last week that it would provide funeral services free of charge to Hiawayi’s family, including the services of a professional funeral director and access to cars. Visitation will be held at Hebron Church on Berkley Avenue from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on this upcoming Friday.

Additionally, over 500 mourners and supporters of little Hiawayi and family have contributed over $17,000 to an online fundraising campaign titled “Support for Hiawayi Robinson,” created on Thursday of last week. The money will go to Hiawayi’s mother, Yosha Populus, who wants to move away from the apartment complex where Hiawayi was last seen.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley offered $5,000 on last Friday afternoon for the arrest and conviction of parties involved in the death of Hiawayi. However, this was following his initial, insensitive expression of sorrow, “There are things that happen we just don't understand. There are difficulties in families. You never know, it may be drug related, it may be alcohol related. It may be family problems. We just don't know what the situation is.

Gov. Bentley’s comments were made in a video interview that is no longer available.

The funeral for “Prichard’s little angel” will be held at Sunlight Auditorium in Prichard on Saturday at 11 a.m. Additionally, commemorations will be held to honor the would-be 9-year old everyday prior to the funeral. Mourners gathered this morning at the flagpole of Mae Eanes Middle School alongside the family of Hiawayi Robinson.

Spiritual leaders and students joined the family in prayer with Rev. Norvel Glover, pastor of Prichard’s My Calvary Baptist Church solemnly stating, “We know there is a birthday party, but it’s in heaven.

I am satisfied to know that little Hiawayi is sitting pretty on her birthday – perhaps in a room decorated with all of her favorite things and surrounded by her share of Hello Kitty shirts, stuffed animals, and balloons. Perhaps fellow angels who will guide her in navigating this new space surround her; and perhaps she is basking in the new, celestial light surrounding her childlike innocence.

However, I am not satisfied by the lack of public outcry, grief, and unsurprisingly, news coverage. In the wake and midst of our collective support of the community of Ferguson, MO regarding the tragic murder of Michael Brown, where are our voices and where are our vigils?

Where are our tears? Have our ears gone deaf and our hearts hardened?

I do not need to imagine little Hiawayi as my sister, as my cousin, or as my unborn daughter for my heart to grieve. I do not have to imagine the city of Prichard as my own, intimate walking grounds to lose the sense of security the confines of my home afford. I do not have to imagine the grief, for it I feel in the depths of my being.

Little Hiawayi, this is for you, on your birthday. Today and always I will remember the candles you will never once more blow out, the wishes you will never once more make.

I will remember the childhood games you will never once more play. I will remember the grimaces you will never again make while your hair is plaited in threes. I will remember the firsts and the lasts that you will never once more have.

I will remember the life you embodied. I will remember the life taken from you. And I will remember the life here on this Earth that you will never once more know.

I will remember you, and little Black girls across the world just like you, in my thoughts, my daydreams, my prayers, and with the life I know and have yet to know.

Little Hiawayi, this is for you, on your birthday. May you rest in peace, forever and always. 

Krislyn Domingue is a sophomore, Sociology & Anthropology and Comparative Women’s Studies double major at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys reading, writing, and sipping Chai Tea. Email:; Twitter: @krislynsd.   

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