By James R. Riffel and Ken Fields
City News ServiceNearly 2,000 grieving friends, family members and law enforcement colleagues came together today to bid farewell to a veteran child-abuse detective and her 18-year-old daughter, who were slain last week in their Rancho Penasquitos home, allegedly by the policewoman’s mentally ill son.
The mourners gathered at a 4S Ranch church to honor the lives of 52-year-old Donna Williams, who served with the San Diego Police Department for 31 years, and her youngest child, Briana, a 2011 graduate of Mount Carmel High School.
An SDPD color guard accompanied the caskets of the mother and daughter, both stabbed to death 10 days ago. The slain policewoman’s 24-year-old son, Brian Rockwell Williams is awaiting a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial on two counts of murder.
One of Donna Williams’ top supervisors, Executive Assistant Police Chief David Ramirez, described her as “a pioneer of sorts.’'
“There weren’t very many woman in the police department (when she joined), and even fewer African-American women,’' Ramirez told the mourners.
The policewoman, who earned the title of SDPD Southeast Division Officer of the Year in 1985 and moved into the department’s Child Abuse Unit four years later, had rare skills in interacting with juvenile crime victims and was able to get them to open up in ways that other interviewers could not, according to Ramirez.
She received an in-house citation of merit for her work investigating the 2002 murder of Sabre Springs second-grader Danielle van Dam, the assistant chief noted.
Capt. Jim Collins, who was commanding officer for Donna as well as her late husband and department colleague Howard Williams, said she was known as the “queen mother’’ of the unit she served for 22 years. The captain praised her as “one of the best — if not the best — child-abuse detectives ever.’'
Briana Williams, an avid softball player called Bree by those close to her, also inspired many fond recollections during the two-hour memorial service.
Her team’s coach, Don Portugal, said the well-loved teen, who had planned to attend a San Francisco design college on a full scholarship this fall, “lived life like she played softball — 100 miles an hour.”
“She didn’t fear mistakes.’' he said. “She was an intimidating pitcher and had a presence on the field that’s hard to explain.’'
The young athlete’s intensity and dedication to the sport she loved left many of her opponents
afraid’’ to hit against her and made her a club all-star every year, the coach said.
The slain teen’s sister, DeKenya Williams, tearfully marveled at the number of people in attendance at the service.
“It’s actually kind of overwhelming to look out over this sea of faces and realize my mom or my sister touched all these lives,’' she told the crowd.
Following the memorial, a bagpiper played as pallbearers carried the caskets to separate hearses. An SDPD bugler then played taps and a police helicopter made a ceremonial flyover.
The mother and daughter were slain early on the morning of July 18. The victims’ neighbors, awakened about 1:15 a.m. to a woman’s screams, saw the teen nude and struggling with her 6-foot, 300-pound older brother on a second-floor deck outside her bedroom window, according to prosecutors.
At one point, Briana was hanging from the balcony by her hands, then dropped to a pavement slab below, after which her sibling calmly went back into his family’s Paseo Montril home, witnesses reported.
When police arrived, they found him in the front yard, standing a few feet from where his sister lay mortally wounded near a bloody knife. The teen died at the scene of about 20 stab wounds a short time later.
Inside the house, officers found the body of Donna Williams face-down in Briana’s bedroom. She also had been knifed repeatedly. The weapon was believed to be a kitchen knife, according to police.
The suspected killer, who surrendered to police peacefully, faces 52 years to life in prison if convicted.
Authorities have disclosed no suspected motive for the slayings.
On the urging of a defense attorney, a judge this week ordered Brian Williams to undergo an evaluation to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial.
The lawyer told reporters his client had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but was not undergoing treatment at the time of the slayings.
Besides the defendant and DeKenya Williams, the victims are survived by Donna Williams’ stepson, Howard C. Williams III, stepdaughter, Tiffany Williams-Lincoln, and mother, Gladys Brown.