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06/14/2013 11:44 am ET

Stephanie Upshur, D.C. Mother, On Her Daughter's Late Father: 'I Could Just Be Myself Around Him' (VIDEO)

In March, The Huffington Post began talking to teens and adults throughout the U.S. about their experiences with gun violence. This is one individual's story. You can read others here.

Stephanie Upshur, 26, was raised in Washington, D.C., and currently lives in Maryland with her 4-year-old daughter, Dakota. Upshur is an aspiring theater actress and single parent. The father of her child, Derrell Goins, was shot and killed in 2008 at age 21:

His friends called him Willow, but I called him Derrell. I guess we started dating in middle school at Francis Junior High. We met when we were 13 or 14.

He was a real friend. He was loyal, he was funny. I could just be myself around him. And he was so artistic. I remember in junior high, the teacher would call on him and he was in another world just doodling away. He was just always drawing.

We talked about having a child when we were, like, 18. He was living with me and my mother because there was a lot of stuff going on in his house. His mom passed away when we were leaving high school. He was hurt about that; they were really close. He loved his nieces and nephews like they were his own. If we weren't hanging out, he was with them. He'd take them swimming or take them to the zoo.

I was at home when we found out I was pregnant. He actually told me when he bought me the pregnancy test, he told me I was pregnant. He just knew.

He was so excited. We went to go see the sonogram and everything. He was super excited about having a girl. He was ready to pick out clothes for her. We'd go to H&M and Gap and pick out baby clothes.

He was so mad I wanted to name her Dakota.

We started arguing a lot. I guess I was irritable when I was pregnant, and we stopped talking. It felt really horrible to be alone those few months. It was sad.

A month later, I am almost seven months pregnant, I was on my way home from work, right by the Navy Yard Station, and a girl from around the neighborhood called my phone. I missed her call, it went to voicemail and she called again. I picked up and she said Derrell had gotten shot.

That's it.

I was in disbelief; I was crying. I was worried -- she didn't tell me whether he was dead or not -- and I went to the house and I was calling family members and stuff to see what was going on.

It was between 5 and 7 p.m., dark outside. So I just decided to get in a cab and go up to Washington Hospital Center. And I saw family members out crying. As soon as I walked in the door, they declared that he was gone. When I walked in they wasn't letting anybody view his body. I didn't get to see his body.

I was hurt, devastated. The last time I spoke to him, that was two weeks before he passed away. We had had a silly fight and I told him, "I don't want to talk anymore."

We went to the hospital when my water broke, on March 16. I actually knew the baby was coming because the morning, before I woke up, I actually had a dream with Derrell in it. He was really sincere; he basically was apologizing for everything. We were standing in what I think was a police department, I don't know why, you know how dreams are -- it's unexplainable. I was talking to the police, trying to figure out who killed him and stuff, and he just showed up out of nowhere and was apologizing.

My family was there first thing in the morning while I was in labor. I just remember sitting there waiting, and Derrell's best friends came up there. They were sitting with me, and his cousins -- I mean, like, it was just so many family members. I was thinking about Derrell. His brother came, and he was crackin' jokes and memories we had with Derrell. I had a long time to talk because I was in labor for 19 hours.

Dakota Willow Goins was born at 2:25 a.m., March 17. I held her; she looked just like Derrell's mother. I saw Derrell in her face. I saw his mother and a little bit of me.

I show her pictures of her dad, and she'll say, "I love my dad." I say, "Your dad would love you, too." She's only 4, so there's stuff she can't understand.

I know that Dakota would have enjoyed him, because she has a funny personality, just like him. He had a great sense of humor. I think he would have drawn with her if he could've. That's all she does now is draw.

As told to Preston Maddock.

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