Franklin County

Mother needs answers in daughter's slaying in Frankfort

Among Ramona White's mementos is a picture of her and daughter Tomma Graves on the day Graves graduated from college. She said Tomma was sick that day but determined to walk across the stage.
Among Ramona White's mementos is a picture of her and daughter Tomma Graves on the day Graves graduated from college. She said Tomma was sick that day but determined to walk across the stage.

The past six weeks have brought little comfort and few answers to Ramona White.

Her daughter, Tomma Graves, a woman dedicated to protecting domestic violence victims, was found shot to death in her truck Aug. 2, and there have been no arrests.

Maj. Fred Deaton of the Frankfort Police Department said in an interview last week there is "no new information to release" about the case.

"It's still actively being investigated," he said. "There are encouraging avenues of inquiry."

That's hard for White. She has so many questions and so much pain — something she realizes she has to accept.

"I've been a praying woman all my life, but I find it hard to pray right now," she said. "I find myself questioning God. Why did she have to go? Because she was such a good mother."

And that's one of the things that troubles White most. Graves, 37, left behind two children, Eiveer, 11, and Eihlyn, 7.

White is struggling to adjust to a new role in their lives and new living arrangements.

White lives in Lexington, but she did not want to uproot the kids from the home they shared with their mother and White's mother, Tillie Hall, 83, who helped raise Graves.

So White has been staying at her mother's house Monday through Friday, putting the kids on the school bus in the morning and cooking them dinner at night.

She takes the children to Lexington with her on weekends.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, with the kids on a trip to Kings Island with their uncle, White sat in her living room. The same soulful spiritual played over and over on a CD player nearby — When Will I See You Again?

"My husband says I shouldn't listen to that song," White said.

Nowadays, White recalls all the mistakes she made in the relationship with her daughter, a strong-willed child who always seemed to want to reverse their roles — "Like she was my Mama," White said with a smile.

"She was complicated but sweet," White said. "I always knew she was going to be special."

Graves was an A student who graduated from Franklin County High School and, later, Kentucky State University.

After graduation, Graves became director of the Crime Victim's Assistance Program in Franklin County, working with the commonwealth's attorney's office and county attorney's office. The program provides support to domestic violence victims, helping connect them to services such as shelters and counseling.

White said she doesn't know anything about the events leading to her daughter's death.

Graves was "a very private person," White said. "If there was something she didn't want you to know, you didn't know it."

She said her daughter had few close friends, although she did enjoy hanging out with her cousins.

LaTessa Washington of Frankfort had been friends with Graves all her life. Their mothers were best friends.

"She used to push me around in the stroller when I was little," Washington said. "She was a beautiful person."

Graves came to see her in the hospital after her baby was born June 30.

"We sat and talked a while," Washington said, and they e-mailed each other after the visit. "She didn't indicate to me that she was having any type of problems."

But she agreed that Graves was one to keep to herself.

"She had her own style," Washington said. "She had her own thing going."

Early on Saturday, July 31, White said, Graves left home without telling Hall where she was going.

About 10:30 or 11 a.m., White said, her mother called her and asked, "Have you seen your daughter?"

The kids had gotten up late and were ready to eat.

White said she didn't worry then — she thought maybe Graves had gone to the store to pick up something for breakfast.

About 4 p.m., White called her mom and learned Graves still hadn't returned.

"I knew then, when her phone kept going to voice mail, something's wrong," White said.

Still, White said she tried not to think the worst. But by Saturday night she was beside herself.

"I was calling the hospitals. I was calling everywhere," she said.

The following day, she called Frankfort police and reported Graves missing.

On Monday morning, Aug. 2, Frankfort police called to tell White that Graves had been found dead.

Her body was in her new truck in a parking lot on Washington Street, where Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Cleveland said she often parked when she was going downtown.

White said police told her that her daughter had been shot in the head, chest and hand.

The grief that came afterward hasn't eased for White.

"They said it's going to get better," she said, "But it don't get no better."

And the children have struggles of their own.

Eiveer, she said, is a "borderline genius" who was his mother's best friend. Eihlyn, she said, is a feisty girl who White knows wonders, "Where's my Mama?"

White said Graves was a conscientious mother who didn't let the children drink sodas and instilled in them a love of reading.

Now, White is struggling to slip out of the role of a doting grandmother who wants to fill up her grandkids on sweets and let them romp through the house.

She's scared. She wonders if she'll be able to do the right thing and questions whether she will be stern enough.

She struggles to hold back the tears for them.

"I try to be strong for them," White said, "but deep down in my heart, I'm weak."

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