Slain editor’s family faces Thanksgiving without him
Three months after his death, Chauncey Bailey’s family talks about their memories.
By Bob Butler, Chauncey Bailey Project
LITHONIA, GA. — This is a bittersweet Thanksgiving for Lorelei Waqia: She is surrounded by family in her suburban Atlanta home, but she misses her younger brother, Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey, who was gunned down Aug. 2 in Oakland. Bailey’s brothers and sister were already struggling with medical problems. Waqia is recovering from breast cancer, and both of her two other brothers underwent surgery in October: Mark Cooley for skin cancer and Errol Cooley for a hip replacement. Now they are trying to heal emotionally after experiencing puzzling events that started with Bailey’s death.
“The hardest part, especially around the holidays — and Thanksgiving in particular because that’s one of the holidays that we celebrated the most — is just not having him here to call and wish me a happy birthday or a happy Thanksgiving,” said Waqia, who turned 59 today.
Audio: A holiday without Chauncey
Waqia and Mark Cooley, 54, sat for an interview this week in Waqia’s dining room, where a piano is adorned with plaques and commendations for Bailey, and reflected on all that’s happened.
Cooley now volunteers as a writer at the Oakland Post and is using his brother’s old desk in the newspaper’s 14th Street offices, where Bailey was on his way to work when he was
killed. Cooley’s first assignment was to cover a Nov. 10 town hall meeting on crime in East Oakland. In the story that ran Nov. 16, Cooley wrote about trying to pick up where Bailey left off.
“It’s good healing for me to be here because my dream has always been to write,” said Cooley, whose writing experience until now has been limited to poetry. “I’m trying to carry the torch, and it just happens to be I’m welcome, so it’s a healing process for both of us, especially (Post Publisher) Paul Cobb. He’s able to take me under his wing and kind of put some finishing touches on my writing but, at the same time, he enjoys my optimism and my natural ability to write.”
While he is not a journalist, Cooley is confident he’ll be able to contribute.
“No. 1, Chauncey can’t be replaced, and it isn’t my mission to replace him,” Cooley said. “I want to continue something that he stood for, which was helping out black newspapers and being instrumental in getting (the Post) back on its feet in light of the tragedy.”
Waqia said she believes Bailey would be proud and thankful his younger brother is now at the Post.
Police believe Bailey, 57, was killed because of stories he was working on. A 20-year-old handyman for Oakland’s Your Black Muslim Bakery, Devaughndre Broussard, has been arrested in connection with the killing. Police said Broussard told them he shot Bailey because the journalist was writing stories about the bakery’s financial troubles. Broussard has since recanted the confession.
Waqia said the situation has been “surreal” — made even more so by a series of bizarre events that occurred during the week they were in the Bay Area to attend Bailey’s funeral.
They arrived in Oakland just days after the shooting and learned their brother was engaged to be married. This came as a surprise to all of them.
“Chauncey and I didn’t talk all the time, but this is something he would have told me,” Waqia said. “And he had a girlfriend in Vietnam that he was looking forward to visiting.”
The fiancee, Debby Oduwa, was staying at Bailey’s apartment. When Waqia, Cooley and other family members went there, they found it ransacked and filthy. This was out of character for their meticulous brother. Oduwa did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment, but in a previous interview has said she and Bailey were to be wed. “Chauncey may not have had a lot of material things, but what he did have, he liked neat and clean,” Waqia said.
They gathered Bailey’s belongings, including credit cards, documents and computers, and took them to Waqia’s husband’s home in North Oakland. The couple have been married 14 years but maintain separate households.
“I took everything in the house and then put the computers back in the car, a 1995 Saturn, Friday night because I was going to go home,” said Mark Cooley, who lives in Modesto. “Then I decided to spend the night. But when I went out the next morning to leave, my car was gone.”
Cooley said he reported the Saturn stolen to Oakland police but, in follow-up telephone calls, was told no theft report had been filed. In September he received a written notice from the police impound lot, A&B Vehicle Processing, that the car had been towed Aug. 26. He was unable to pay the impound fees, and A&B disposed of the car Sept. 21.
All of those incidents are now behind them, but it doesn’t make today any easier for Waqia.
“It’s still kind of hard and surrealistic, especially with all the articles I’ve been reading about the progress of the case,” she said.
Still, Waqia has several reasons to be thankful today. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. After going through chemotherapy and radiation, she has been free of cancer for a year. She said she will have 15 members of her family over for Thanksgiving.
“I’ll have my children around and everything, but he’ll be in the back of my mind,” she said of Bailey.
If nothing else, Bailey’s death has brought Waqia and Cooley, as well as the extended family, closer together. The two are trying to organize a family reunion in 2008, the first time they would all be together in 10 years.
“We realize we can’t wait for a funeral to get together,” Waqia said.
Bob Butler is a freelance reporter often heard on KCBS 740 and is president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association.