August 3, 2020 | By Project: Cold Case Staff
“She could’ve been anything,” Alice Thomas Norris said.
Her daughter, Rolanda Marshall, had a world of opportunity ahead of her. Kesia, as she was called, was a writer, poet, cook, dancer, and singer.
She loved to sing. “She enjoyed belting out Anita Baker, Prince, and Michael Jackson,” Alice recalled with a smile.
The multi-talented Kesia was an incredible student. She landed on the honor roll for many years. Alice brags about her daughter having perfect attendance for eight straight years. “I had no idea about perfect attendance when I was school!” she laughs.
Growing up on the northwest side of Chicago, Kesia’s local school was a few blocks away, but would require her to cross a few lanes of busy traffic to get to school. Alice was having none of that – she had to protect her children.
Kesia and her siblings would take the school bus to a predominately white school a few miles from home. It was there that Kesia would truly shine. Almost immediately, she created a little group of “Lovely Girls” – LGs for short – to unite the few minority girls in school. Quickly, everyone wanted to join. Alice is quick to point out that the group turned out to include more white girls than not. “That’s just how Kesia was, she loved everyone,” Alice said.
It didn’t matter what play was being held, Kesia was typically in the lead role. “I didn’t know how great of a singer she was until I saw her on stage,” Alice recalls.
Kesia’s voice was silenced in 1993. The exceptional student, school newspaper editor, student body president – Rolanda LaKesia Marshall was shot and killed just a few blocks from her home. She and a friend had walked down the street to a local restaurant, the Beefee Restaurant on the corner of Lockwood and North Avenue. While inside the building, someone approached and opened fire from outside.
The windows were littered with gun holes. Two people were struck – a young male that would survive his injuries, and Kesia.
Only one of the many bullets struck Kesia. It severed her brain stem.
She was just 14 years old. “She was an old soul,” her mother claimed.
Listening to the stories and looking at her photo, you wouldn’t know she was so young. “She accomplished so much in her life,” Alice said. “I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, but not what she did.”
With her talents and smarts, it’s difficult to grasp what the world lost with Kesia’s murder. She didn’t have the opportunity to find a career path that she enjoyed. What good could Kesia Marshall bring to her Chicago community? To her country? To the world?
According to stories her mother shared, Kesia wasn’t worried about saving the world on her own. She wanted to empower those around her to do just that. “I’ll probably be a teacher,” she told Alice, “because there is so much that people need to know.”
“She loved people,” Alice recalled.
Alice Thomas Norris grew up in the Chicago area.
“I didn’t want to live anywhere other than Chicago,” she stated.
In 1980, Alice and her husband moved to “my beloved Westside,” as she calls it.
Alice worked at a photography shop, even taking photos at weddings from time to time. She loved the job, but the hours were too demanding and kept her away from her family.
“I needed to be there for my children,” she says.
So, Alice went back to school to become a certified nurse technician. The new position allowed her to change her hours and be available for school functions. She never missed an awards day, as her kids seemed to rack up reward after reward every semester.
“Every time I went to school for awards day and such, Kesia’s teachers would brag on how wonderful she was to have,” Alice recalled.
Alice wanted to build a business with her family, a wedding coordinating business. Alice had experience in wedding planning from her photography days, her husband would man the camera for photographs, one daughter would video the wedding, and Kesia would sing.
On August 28, 1993, the family dream was becoming a reality. The wedding was beautiful. The family worked well together.
And Kesia rocked singing Anita Baker’s “You Give Good Love” that day.
After the wedding, the family went back home to rest, eventually falling asleep. Kesia awoke first and then went to the restaurant with her friend.
“She probably thought ‘I’ll be gone for just five minutes’ and we were still asleep,” Alice said. “She didn’t want to bother us.”
The phone rang and woke Alice. It was Kesia’s friend. When she said Kesia had been shot, Alice thought she was kidding. When the friend began to cry, she knew it was no joke.
“I grabbed my car keys and purse, but didn’t get in my car,” Alice recalled. She traversed the few blocks to the restaurant on foot instead.
When she arrived, police wouldn’t let Alice through the crime scene. “I looked down and saw the bullet casings – there were so many casings,” she said.
Kesia had been the innocent bystander to a drive-by shooting.
Kesia spent nine days on life support. But with the damage, Alice knew she wouldn’t be the same.
“I went back to school to work in that industry,” Alice said. “I knew what life looked like after life support.”
She made the decision to take her daughter off life support. “I knew that she wouldn’t be my Kesia,” Alice cried.
On September 6, 1993, Rolanda LaKesia Marshall passed away.
“I feel like she had two death dates,” Alice said.
“It was my wish, when Kesia died, that I would die too,” Alice said.
“But then God spoke to me. He said ‘What would your daughters do without you? What would your husband do? What would your family do?’”
Alice credits her faith and her job as a nurse being her “healing.”
“I would visit five to six people a day and travel fifteen to twenty minutes between patients,” Alice said. “I would cry the entire car ride.”
Alice loved her patients and her patients loved her. “Some of them would be so glad to see me,” she recalled. “They’d say ‘oh my angel came to see me today!’”
The career that Alice took to protect her children ultimately protected herself.
“Sitting in my office, taking phone calls all day – I would’ve gone crazy,” Alice said.
Since losing her daughter, Alice has worked to advocate against gun violence and the easy accessibility of guns in and out of Chicago. She has helped create multiple organizations and has spoken in Washington D.C. on occasion.
With Kesia being murdered near the family house, Alice said that she would travel by the restaurant almost daily. She would also pass by the cemetery where she was buried.
“It was torture,” Alice said.
She ended up moving out to the suburbs to escape that torture and the growing violence of her city.
“I couldn’t stand to live in Chicago any longer,” Alice said, “because my city didn’t work to protect my baby.”
Kesia, channeling her inner writer, loved to give her mother letters. Alice can still recite the last letter she ever received from her daughter. “I love you, I’m glad that you’re my mom. There is no one better than you,” she says fighting back the tears.
When asked what Kesia would be doing today, Alice believes that she would have been a singer. “She would’ve been a great singer, whether it was gospel or pop,” she stated.
“When I see Jennifer Hudson, I see Kesia. When I see Brandy, I see Kesia.”
Life has left a toll on Alice. She lost her daughter at a young age. She has fought and beaten breast cancer on two separate occasions. She has been in numerous car wrecks and shattered bones. But that doesn’t stop her.
“I had a life with Kesia,” she says. “I have a different life now without her.”
“My grandchildren are a great source of joy. They represent life to me. I want them to be able to grow up and have a life of joy and peace.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Rolanda Marshall, please contact the Chicago Police Department at (312) 746-6000.
Research & Impact
Surviving family members often share with Project: Cold Case their inability to receive information from the investigators on their loved one’s case. Many times, case information is considered confidential and will rarely be shared with families, for fear of jeopardizing the integrity of the case.
For example, if investigators had never released the cause of death and someone brings a tip stating they witnessed the killer shoot eight bullets at the victim, that information is only known to the killer, the witnesses, and the investigators. Once that information becomes public, then anyone presenting those as fact to investigators becomes more difficult to confirm. And this can be true for multiple facts regarding the case.
Unfortunately, that means that case files may not be obtainable for some families. If the agency classifies the case as “active” or “ongoing,” then it is most likely those files will stay in-house. If the case is “suspended,” then you may have the opportunity to obtain them. Most agencies will require the family to submit a Freedom of Information Act records request, which could very well come with a monetary charge.
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