Do you ever have moments where you think to yourself, "I am so lucky to have my best friend?" It's such a comfort to know you have someone who has your back no matter what, right? For 17-year-old Omaha, Nebraska student Ciera Boatwright, that person was Janis Brown.

Ciera and Janis met in the fourth grade when Ciera was new in town, and the duo had an instant bond. "I saw her in the cafeteria walking around with a weird purple butterfly shirt on, so I went up to her and from there, we were just best friends!" Ciera recalls to J-14 exclusively. "We were both loud and extremely outspoken, so naturally we got along."

From that moment on, the girls were inseparable, spending nearly every weekend together. And even when they started going to separate schools in seventh grade, they always made sure to keep in touch. "We had nicknames for each other," Ciera laughs. "We shared a love for breakfast food, so Janis was 'Juice' and I was 'Cereal.' We realized they didn't go together very well, but we didn't mind."

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On the night of June 24, 2016, Ciera and Janis FaceTimed before Ciera headed to bed. She had no idea it would be the last time she spoke to her best friend. "On June 25 at 4:36 a.m., my mom came into my room, grabbed my hand and told me someone died," Ciera shares. "I was very confused and not connecting the dots. That's when she told me Janis died the night before." In shock and disbelief, Ciera grabbed her phone, calling and texting Janis over and over. "That's when I saw all these texts and calls from family and friends, but I couldn't process it," she painfully recalls. "I knew she couldn't be gone because I just talked to her before I went to bed. I didn't believe it." 

The truth was that Janis had been picked up by her older sister, Jesseca, and little brother, Lord, after work. The siblings were headed to Walmart to rent a movie when a drunk driver slammed into their car. Although Jesseca and Lord were both safe, Janis passed away due to the impact of the crash. In Nebraska, the legal alcohol limit while driving is .08. The driver who killed Janis had a blood alcohol content of .102. He has been sentenced to 22-25 years in prison.

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In the wake of her best friend’s death, Ciera found herself in a deep depression. She made the decision to go to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp, where she found comfort through her pain. “I know Janis is so proud of me because she always loved going to church,” Ciera says. “Now, whenever I feel myself getting depressed over Janis being gone, I turn to the Bible.”

Though she is finding her strength, Ciera still has tough moments. “I think the hardest part is wanting to call or text Janis, then realizing that she won’t be there to answer,” she admits. “I’m still not used to not having her here.” Ciera says that writing in her journal and writing essays about her friend is the best way to get her feelings out.

One thing Ciera is certain is that through this horrific experience, she has learned a lot. “I’ve learned that I am stronger than I think,” Ciera opens up to J-14. “Since Janis died, I have changed completely, I found my love for writing and realized that being drunk is not something I want to do. I learned that drunk driving or driving under the influence is never okay. One day, I want to start an organization for Janis to spread the word about how horrible drunk driving is, and that it needs to be stopped.” We’re behind you, Ciera!

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Ciera has a lifetime of great memories with Janis to look back on, but there’s one that she will never forget.

“In ninth grade, Janis came over to my house when I wasn’t home,” she recalls. “She put a bunch of Post-It Notes all over my room, and left a note on my bed saying ‘Love you baby — Janis.’ I have always been the type to keep notes, so when she died, I found that note and told my mom I wanted it tattooed, right above my heart, so that Janis would always be with me.’” Such a special way to honor her friend!

How to avoid drunk drivers

Someone is injured by a drunk driver every two minutes. Follow these pointers to stay safe on the road — as a driver or a passenger.

1. Look for signs

Swerving, random breaking, driving on the wrong side of the road, sudden changes in speed, driving at night without headlights and having a slow response to traffic signals are all signs of a drunk driver.

2. Know when to avoid the road

Three times as many fatal alcohol-related accidents happen at night than during the day, so avoid late-night driving as much as possible. It’s also smart to stay off the road on nights of big celebration holidays, like Super Bowl Sunday, July 4th and New Year’s.

3. Call 911

If you’re suspicious that someone is driving drunk, call the police and tell them you’d like to report a drunk driver. They’ll ask for your location and information about the car.

Interview and story by Toni Ferrigno. "Real Girl Ciera: 'My best friend was killed by a drunk driver'" originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of J-14.

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