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Sharon Claridy couldn't believe it when she heard her daughter was killed.

"You're not supposed to bury your child," she said. "Your child is supposed to bury you. The whole family was in shock."

Taja Whiteside, herself a mother of three, was Claridy's only child.

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Taja Whiteside / Contributed photo by Akedus Hamilton

The 30-year-old was found dead in her own home in the 5800 block of Moody Sawyer Road just before noon on Jan. 11. She'd been strangled to death.

Police and her family believe it was at the hands of her boyfriend, 31-year-old Kameron Leslie.

Leslie was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, on Wednesday after nearly four months of searching by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. He is charged with first-degree murder and is in custody at the Duval County Jail, where he will remain until being extradited to Hamilton County in the coming days.

It was really hard for the family during the months of searching, Claridy said. But when news of Leslie's arrest came, they were "overwhelmed with joy and anger," Whiteside's cousin, Akedus Hamilton, said.

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Kameron Leslie

"It was a big relief," Claridy said, thanking God and those who offered tips to law enforcement.

While the family has found solace in the news of his arrest, the pain of losing Whiteside remains.

"We're still in shock," Claridy said. "Even with him behind bars, we're just still in shock."

Claridy, 50, has had to again take on the role of being a mother. She and her husband are caring for all three of Whiteside's children — 5, 7 and 13 years old — in Greeneville, Tennessee.

"My life now is really busy," she said.

She had to quit her job to care for the children and is now on unemployment, but she "wouldn't change it for anything in the world."

She said the children are doing OK. "The best they can do."

For Hamilton, Whiteside's death has hit hard. The two grew up together, like sisters.

"I personally feel like I have never experienced nothing so devastating like her death," she wrote in a Facebook message. "Just knowing the fact that she will no longer exist [is] something that [has] changed me for the rest of my days here on earth."

Whiteside was like every other woman, she said. She loved. She laughed. She cried. She fell and got right back up.

"But at some point in life we tend to allow love to defend pain and hide the truth," Hamilton said. " I regret just not knowing the pain and truth behind her eyes or the fact that she was scared or confused."

She wants people to learn to recognize the signs of domestic abuse.

"[Whiteside] didn't tell us a lot," Claridy said. "I would have snapped my daughter right out of that relationship if I had to myself. But you know, when you're older, you make your own decisions. It's just still hard to believe."

The couple had been dating for less than a year, Claridy said.

"She was a lovely, loving daughter, mother and friend," she said. "Everywhere she went, she always made friends."

"Our hearts are still broken My only child [was taken away]. But I have three of her here. And these three children are my strength."

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.

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