This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
It was 5:39 a.m. The sun hadn’t even come up yet.
After a night of dancing and celebrating the birthday of a Jacksonville friend, all Jillian Berrios wanted to do was go home, climb into bed and sleep before waking up to her kids.
That never happened, because at that moment, her life came to an end.
Beatrice Mejies believes someone out there knows information needed to bring the person who killed her friend to justice. There was a witness — a passenger in Berrios’ car who saw everything that happened to her the night she died. But the passenger refuses to talk, fearing she will be next.
“Jillian, or Jilly Beans to those who were close to her, was the type of person to give the shirt from her back if needed. She was a sweet, outgoing and humble type of person,” said Mejies, who still lives in Orange Park. “Her death has left a huge hole in the lives of those who knew and remember her.”
Berrios’ life came to a sudden halt in the early morning of Oct. 19, 2013.
The 27-year-old was dropping a friend off at her home in Orange Park after a night of dancing at clubs, the last of which was the Taboo Bar and Grill, where they were celebrating a friend’s birthday.
When the two women arrived at the friend’s Loring Avenue home, they came face-to-face with a black man who fired five shots into the car, killing Berrios and injuring the passenger.
The man sped away in a red hatchback.
The passenger, whom police still have not named, escaped with minor injuries and was taken to Orange Park Medical Center.
Orange Park Police Chief Gary Goble said in a news release issued days after the shooting that the survivor’s identity was being withheld for her protection. Today the case has gone cold.
Berrios was born and raised in the Chicago area and moved to Florida with her family when she was in middle school.
She attended Orange Park High School where she graduated in 2004, before attending Everest University pursuing a degree in business. But she dropped out of school after she got married.
Berrios was the mother to a daughter and a son, both under the age of 10, at the time of the death.
She started work as a tax analyst in September 2013 in Orange Park, with a woman who would become her best friend, Amanda La Hawaiiana.
“She did a lot of things for fun. We would go out to karaoke, play pool, go the Spanish clubs just so we could dance salsa,” said La Hawaiiana. “We always had a little get together so that our kids could play together.”
Vanessa Lopez said Berrios was the type of person who never let a friend down.
“She would drop everything in a single moment just to be at their side,” Lopez said. “She was the type of person that everyone she met loved. She never held a grudge.”
Berrios also didn’t get into trouble or fight with people. That’s why friends and family do not understand why she was a victim.
A beautiful Puerto Rican woman, Berrios loved to spend time with her children. On the other hand, she’d seldom turn down an invitation to go salsa dancing with friends.
“She had an effervescent smile,” said Carlos Colon, a childhood friend who remembers Berrios preparing to compete in pageants as a young child.
“Her smile is the one thing I will remember most about her, and her laugh, even from an early age, it is still unforgettable,” said Colon, who resides in Indiana.
Berrios’ family still maintains a memorial page for her on Facebook. They maintain a billboard in Orange Park, on the corner of Blanding Boulevard and Wells Road near the Orange Park Mall, desperately searching for answers and trying to raise awareness of cold cases such as Berrios’.
She didn’t have a large family, but she was close to her sister and her friends. Her friends, even now, play an influential role, helping to look after her children. Her daughter, Jayleen, lives with her father, while her half-brother resides with Berrios’ mother and sister.
“They still share memories of their mother with the kids,” said La Hawaiiana. “Jayleen remembers what it was like to have her mother around and took the death hard, but with the love from her family is slowly moving on.”
Police are still working the case with the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Someone out there knows the answers needed to solve this case.
Berrios was a woman who danced the night away with friends, celebrating life, only to meet the end of hers in just a matter of minutes.
She left behind a trail of broken hearts and memories, fueling the need to get this case solved so she can rest in peace.
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