Jamaine Akins holds his niece Journee Akins on his shoulder during Journee's first birthday party at East Lake Park in Chattanooga on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Journee's mother, Jasmine Akins, was shot and killed last year, when Journee was just 4 months old.


Journee Akins could not sit still for more than a moment at her first birthday party on Saturday.

She toddled around and constantly got into trouble -- trying to eat chips off the ground one second, splashing through a puddle the next.

Dozens of family and friends kept a close eye on her as she zipped around the picnic pavilion at East Lake Park. She looks just like her mama, said Deborah Daniel, Journee's great-grandmother.

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Ayesha Pankey walks with her granddaughter, Journee Akins, during Journee's first birthday party Saturday at East Lake Park in Chattanooga. Pankey has been Journee's caretaker since the child's mother was shot and killed last year.

But Journee's mother, Jasmine Akins, wasn't at the party. She was gunned down in September, when Journee was just 4 months old, and died -- at age 19 -- in a parking lot on Market Street. The crime remains unsolved.

Saturday's party was a celebration of life, haunted by death.

Journee's first birthday, without Jasmine there to witness it.

"We all miss her," Daniel said, slowly and softly. And then her eyes flick to Journee. "But she's still here."

Then it was time to eat. Kids crowded around, loading up plates with hot dogs, chips, pizza and cupcakes. Picnic tables were covered with presents, balloons, streamers and smiles. Kids dashed about with little paper party blowers rolling in and out at full blast. Journee knocked over a cooler half-full of ice and was plucked from the mess.

Ayesha Pankey, Journee's grandmother, presided over all the chaos -- dishing up the pizza, making sure everyone who wanted a drink had one. After her daughter died, Pankey took up the task of raising Journee.

It's been hard. Pankey works at a local hotel and thought her days raising kids were over. But she has gotten some help from Chattanooga police, who organized a drive in December to gather toys, diapers, clothes and furniture for the family.

They're pushing forward. Journee is walking now, growing like a weed. And Pankey's youngest son, Jamaine Akins, just returned home after almost five months of basic training to join the National Guard. He got home on Thursday, a day after Journee's actual birthday on Wednesday.

"I'm officially a soldier now," he said.

Some days are better than others, Pankey said. Lately has been tough. She cried often as Mother's Day approached. She, without her daughter. Journee, without her mother. It was too much.

"I couldn't shake it," she said. "I cried for three days straight."

She took Journee to Jasmine's grave for Mother's Day and snapped photos.

When she can, she tries to hid the bad days from Journee.

"So all she sees is happy," she said, "and that's all she ever knows."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or with tips or story ideas.