'Someone in your corner': Silas showed her care for children up until the very end

Steven Spearie
State Journal-Register
Deidre Graham Silas

Even after Deidre (Graham) Silas got her first car so she could drive herself to help mentor students in an after-school program at Laketown Elementary, Silas' father, Roy Graham, would insist on following her in his car.

He still remembered the route.

"I would come all the way up 11th Street, then turn on Stevenson Drive and then turn into the neighborhood there," recalled Graham. "It was a Dodge something (she drove). I watched her until she got there because I was so scared. Then I'd follow her coming back."

Now all Graham wants is for his "Nadia," a playful name from her childhood, to walk through his door again.

"She's just gone. Just gone," Graham said. "I can't grasp it. I can't believe it."

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It has been a frenetic whirlwind for Graham and his wife, Barie, and the rest of the family since learning of the fatal stabbing of the 36-year-old Silas at a residence in Thayer, a village of about 700 people 22 miles south of Springfield, on the southern tip of Sangamon County.

Graham has sat through a news conference, which included words from his daughter's boss, Marc Smith, the director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

On Thursday, Graham and his family attended the formal arraignment of Benjamin Howard Reed, 32, who has been charged with murdering Silas.

Silas, a child protection specialist with DCFS, was making a visit to Reed's home around 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Six children, ages 1 to 7, were present at the time, according to Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell. It is unknown how many of the children were Reed's. There were other adults present.

Sangamon County Dispatch received a 911 about a possible stabbing at a residence in the 300 block of Elm Street. Officers from the Pawnee, Auburn and Divernon police departments responded along with Sangamon County sheriff's deputies.

Silas was alone in the residence when police had to forcibly enter, Campbell said. 

Reed was arrested a short time later Tuesday by Decatur Police at HSHS St. Mary's Hospital, where he was seeking medical attention for a cut to his hand.

Reed has been sitting in Sangamon County Jail since then. On Thursday, a judge agreed with the state's motion to have his bail denied.

"I'm still devastated," admitted Erica Austin, a friend of Silas'. "No one should be taken like that, especially if they're doing their job to protect the welfare of children. It's mindboggling."

'Full of life'

Austin met Silas through Delta Sigma Theta Inc.'s La Petite program for eighth-graders. The two were also part of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. as 11th- and 12th-graders.

"It was different programs to introduce us to the community as young women," Austin said. "We did etiquette workshops, self-esteem workshops, resume workshops, anything that would prepare us to be respectful citizens wherever we ended up. The programs helped us to become young women and to act like a young lady and think like a young lady. They prepared us for different things.

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"From those programs, we formed a friendship, an alliance. There was a group of us that always stayed together."

Austin remembered Silas as "always so full of life. She had a smile that could literally light up a whole room. She came from Jamaica (in 1996), her and her family, so she brought a sense of that culture to share with us and all of our friends."

Larry Luster got to know Silas when her family joined Union Baptist Church.

"My church friends were people I hung out with all the time because we had different activities," Luster said. "There was a group of four-five-six of us, who hung pretty tight. Courtney Moore. Keneisha Boozer. Tiara Thomas. Heather Taylor. We all stayed in touch and got together when we could."

Luster recalled Silas as an honest person who "would call you out when you were doing something you weren't supposed to be doing or when you took the wrong approach to something. That's to be appreciated from a friend who's going to set you straight."

Deidre Silas

Roy Graham, a sterile processing techni said Nadia wanted to be a criminal attorney at first. After Springfield High School, she went to Illinois State University, where she majored in criminal justice.

At the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles, a medium security facility housing around 300 juvenile males and part of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, she was affectionately known as "Mama Graham." Silas worked there as a juvenile justice specialist and then as a supervisor from 2009 to 2017.

"She worked with some hardcore juveniles," Roy Graham recalled. "But she defused a lot of situations. 

"I told her 'just be careful.'"

Few people were surprised Silas took that work route.

"She was a caring person, and she truly cared about kids, even when she was working in the prison with them," said Avis Graham-Smith, Silas' maternal aunt.

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"If you looked at some of the positions she's held and some of the things she's done in adulthood," Luster added, "you would see she cared about people and cared about helping children. She's always been a person who's put a lot of people before herself.

"She had the ambition to help people and help people turn their lives around and help kids and youths."

And at the end, Luster added, Silas was trying to protect kids.

"Sometimes when parents or family go awry, you need someone in your corner, and she was in that position to make sure those kids had a way to have an outlet," he said. "That's one of the more unfortunate aspects was that those kids were probably in a really tough situation and needed some help and some guidance."

'She's gone'

Graham last saw his daughter on Monday when she briefly stopped by to pick up some mail.

Nadia's dog was in her truck, Graham said, and she planned to stop by Tuesday to pick up another package.

"She said, 'I'll see you tomorrow. Love you, dad.' I said, 'I love you, too,'" recalled Graham.

On Tuesday afternoon, Andre Silas, Deidre's husband, called Graham asking if he had been in touch with her because he hadn't heard from her.

Graham called her phone. No answer.

Soon after, Andre dropped the couple's two kids, Ashton, 5, and Amelia, 2, at Graham's and set off to look for her. Graham followed but only got as far as Chatham before turning back.

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When he got home, Graham got word that his sister had seen a number of police cars at the house in Thayer.

Graham left again, this time for Thayer. Police at the house told him it was an active crime scene.

"They couldn't tell me anything," Graham said.

Then Graham got the word about Nadia.

"It's all I could tell my wife. She's gone," he said.

Graham is mostly worried about his grandchildren. Ashton is autistic and non-verbal. Both he and Amelia have food allergies.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help both children and has raised over $30,000.

Asked how Nadia will be remembered, Graham said, "Loving, caring. Always smiling. Never a frown on her face. She was the best.

"You could ask for anything and she'll give you her last. No questions asked."

Deidre (Graham) Silas, front row, far left, and Erica Austin, next to Silas, at the Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. (Nu Omicron Omega Chapter) Fashionetta Debutante Ball.

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.