At age 18, Jaden Brito White was shot to death outside of his home in Malden. His family and friends describe what it was like to have him in their lives and mourn his loss a year after his death.
By Saliha Bayrak
Jaden Brito White was known for his contagious laugh, kind heart, and love for his family and friends that he made abundantly clear before his life was cut short on Dec. 29, 2020.
Jaden and his mother, Nicole Brito White, would constantly tell each other “I love you” throughout the day, any time one of them entered the room.
“I miss walking in the door and hearing ‘Hi mom. I love you,’” Nicole said.
Nicole speaks highly of her late son, not only because of a mother’s bias, but because of the countless people in the community who have approached her after his passing and shared stories of how Jaden influenced them. “I realized that he touched almost this entire city,” she said.
“He was an honorable person, he was trustworthy. He was reliable, kind. He had the greatest sense of humor. He made the most awkward situations funny. He brought a light with him everywhere he went,” Nicole said. “I think he was just infectious.”
Jaden’s life was ended on Dec. 29, 2020 when he was shot outside of his apartment building located off of Eastern Avenue in Malden. He recently graduated from Malden High School and was just on the brink of adulthood. A year after his passing, Jaden’s family and friends continue to remember and honor him while struggling to get him justice.
“For me, it’s a daily battle between keeping his memory alive, and making sure he gets justice for what happened to him,” Nicole said.
The motive for his shooting is still unknown and under investigation, and Jaden’s family describes it as a tragic incident in which he was wrongfully and unreasonably targeted.
According to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, Sifeddine Rogadi, 20, of Everett was arrested on Jan. 12, 2021 in connection with the killing of Jaden Brito White. Rogadi was arrested on charges of murder, armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery by discharge of a firearm, possession of a large-capacity firearm, and possession of ammunition. Investigators have yet to identify a second suspect involved in the shooting. The case remains open and Rogadi awaits trial.
One of Nicole’s concerns is that people will assume that Jaden, someone she describes as never being in any trouble, was affiliated with gangs himself when they hear his story “because he was a black kid living in a low-income neighborhood, and that’s how they label people,” she said.
“I just don’t want it to be miscategorized,” Nicole said. “My son was a target. He was a victim. And he was an innocent person. And he should be treated as such.”
Nicole also hopes that her son will be a reminder of the tragedies that result from gang violence. “I just hope that kids his age look at this situation and understand how valuable life is,” Nicole said. “I just hope they’re nicer to each other, you know, that these kids give each other more respect. And just compassion.”
Xavier Rios, who knew Jaden from 3rd grade through high school, describes him as someone who was well-prepared, reliable, smart and got along with many different types of people. Xavier dedicates artwork to Jaden and uses a Sharpie to leave memories of him around Malden and Boston, writing his name on the trains. The two bonded over their love for art and fashion and grew closer when the COVID-19 pandemic began, as their proximity allowed them to spend more time with each other.
“He was someone who loved to laugh…I would strive to make him laugh,” Xavier said.
Pancho, Xavier’s older brother who grew closer to Jaden through their friendships, remembers Jaden for his non-judgmental and supportive attitude. Pancho admittedly did not like most of Xavier’s friends, but Jaden was always an exception. “I could just hear his laugh one more time. That’s all I really want,” Pancho said.
“We [always] told each other we love each other,” Pancho said. “There was that thing about him that people just gravitated towards, just his positivity, his innocence, everything, his smile.”
Jonathan Brown was Jaden’s friend from the age of four and someone who his grandmother describes as his “friend for life.” The two were neighbors as young children when they formed their brother-like bond. In a character letter to the Middlesex Superior Court, Brown wrote “Jaden and I had dreams and plans to move our moms to a beautiful mansion, we wanted to be successful…Jaden would bring out the good in not just me, but all his friends,”
Jaden’s family and friends have many memories with him that simultaneously bring joy and pain, laughter and tears.
A day that his father, Martin Issonda, looks back on with fondness is New Year’s Eve, 2018, when his family was having a party and playing African music. Although Jaden usually never danced, Issonda said to him “Hey pop’s, come dance with me.”
“I just grabbed his hands and we got on the dance floor and we started dancing. I will never, ever forget the moment…especially dancing to my cultural music,” Issonda said.
Jaden and his father would both call each other ‘pop’s,’ Issonda explained, because he looked up to his son. “He made me grow up… Jaden turned me from a boy into a man,” he said.
In one moment that Nicole describes particularly poignantly, Jaden’s friend was waiting outside for him after school to hang out like they usually did, but Jaden insisted that he was going to spend the day with his mother since she had just graduated community college.
Nicole had Jaden when she was 16, and they essentially grew up together. “He very much so raised me as much as I raised him,” Nicole said. Nicole did not finish high school and received her GED, but later went back to school and started college. At that time, Nicole would work full-time during the day and attend school during the night, during which Jaden “never complained,” Nicole said. He would even help his mother by making dinner for her and himself and doing chores like laundry. However, one thing he always dreaded was throwing out the trash, his friends and family remember with a laugh.
Jaden graduated from Malden High School in 2020, a moment that filled his parents with uncontainable pride.
“His graduation was one of my favorite memories. I was just so proud. So proud of that kid,” Nicole said. “You know, you have a kid that young you don’t hope for the best, you know, you do your best, but he was exceptional. He really was, and I can’t even take all the credit for that because he was just his own person.”
The painful reality that Jaden was robbed of his opportunity of graduating college, and reaching other milestones like getting married, remains on Nicole’s mind. He was planning on starting college while his mother was planning on completing her degree.
“I just want people to understand what a loss this is. And not just for me, but for him too, because he missed out on a whole life. And he didn’t deserve it,” Nicole said.
Jaden’s family and friends shared many stories that highlight his good character. In one instance, Jaden confronted a man being abusive to a woman at the train station, undaunted by the fact that the man was much older than him. When he would go out to get food with his friends, he would always make sure that everyone had something to eat. Fernanda Brito, Jaden’s grandmother, explained that Jaden once sacrificed his own comfort and offered his umbrella to her friend when he noticed her walking outside in the rain. Nate Langston, Nicole’s longtime partner, described a moment in which he offered Jaden a ride home. Not wanting to abandon the friends he was already walking with, Jaden kindly declined the offer despite the freezing weather and long walk ahead.
“We’re going to continue to just do anything we can to keep his spirit alive, because it was a good one,” said Langston, who’s known Jaden since he was 6.
Many times, people have come up to Jaden’s loved ones to share stories of him that they had previously been unaware of. One of Jaden’s friends from high school explained to Christel Hayes, a longtime friend of Nicole’s, that Jaden was someone who spoke to them at school when no one else would, helping them get through an otherwise isolating experience.
Jaden’s family and friends continue to struggle with the loss.
Fernanda said that he and her grandson had a unique relationship because they lived under the same roof when he was younger. As he grew older, they would go shopping, get dinner, and go to the dentist together. His absence is intensely painful for her.
“I have my days where I get up, and I cry. Sometimes I go to bed, and I’m still crying. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of the day, and something will hit me and, and my heart breaks again,” Fernanda said. “I miss him terribly.”
Fernanda works as a community advocate and hopes to be more active in making Malden safer through violence awareness and gun control advocacy.
For Issonda, his other children help him cope.
“I’ve been leaning crazy on family and my other children…at least they still give me purpose…but it’s family, prayers, his brothers and sisters. That’s what keeps me here,” Issonda said.
Jaden is survived by two younger sisters and two younger brothers, including a 7-year-old brother who never forgets to mention Jaden in his prayers.
“Every night me and him pray, and he always prays for his brother. But I don’t think he really understands prayer. He always asked God to open heaven’s doors, so his brother can come back home, you know? Because he misses him so much. And I have my daughter, Imani, who’s to me like a replica of Jaden…looking at her gives me comfort. You know? I feel like I have a piece of him still with me,” Issonda explained.
Jaden’s loved ones urge the community to support them by keeping his memory alive and making the city safer.
“If the city can do anything for me more than what they have, because a lot of the residents here have gone above and beyond for me, but I think the city needs to provide more safety for their residents and not just the ones that live in the better areas but the ones that live in this area [Faulkner neighborhood],” Nicole said.
One of the changes that have occurred since Jaden’s passing is the installation of lights and cameras behind the apartment complex that Jaden and his family lived in, making it safer. On a larger scale, Jaden’s passing made a riptide through Malden by bringing the community together.
“I now know 800 children in Malden that I would have never known and they all hug me, and they say hello to me. And we all have this thing in common, you know, whether it’s a sadness, or it’s like a sadness and a love, we can see each other and know that we all have it in common,” said Hayes, who watched Jaden grow up from the age of 6.
“I’m just grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the Malden community,” Issonda said.
On Oct. 23, 2021, the first annual Jaden Brito White free throw contest was held in honor of Jaden. The event was sponsored by the Committee to Elect Ward 7 Councilor Chris Simonelli, as well as Joe Simonelli and Kevin Shapleigh
Jaden’s family also announced the formation of the Jaden Brito-White Foundation to “honor and remember Jaden and to call attention to his family’s pursuit of justice,” and aims to provide scholarships to students in area high schools.
Nicole explains that she has noticed a decline of unity in Malden in the last 10 to 15 years, which she believes has led to more violence. With Jaden in her heart and on her mind, she has made it a goal to provide the local children with care, comfort and community.
“I can’t do anything to bring my son back, but I can honor him the best way possible. And the way to do that is to provide these kids with what I provided my son, and that was the structure, that was a good foundation. It was love. It was care,” Nicole said. “And not every kid gets that at home. Not every kid gets that at school. And I can’t house every child in Malden, but I can definitely give all of them a hug and help them get through some stuff. I don’t have that to do with Jaden anymore. So, they keep me going.”
Saliha Bayrak is a journalism major at UMass Amherst and a reporter and assistant coordinator for Neighborhood View.