DETECTIVE DONNA L. WILLIAMS #3130
SDPD 1980 - 07/18/2011
1959 - 07/18/2011

JULY 18, 2011. FROM THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

SAN DIEGO — A veteran San Diego police detective was stabbed to death in her Rancho Peñasquitos home early Monday, and responding officers found her son sitting calmly outside as his naked teenage sister was dying from stab wounds on the sidewalk nearby.

The son, Brian Rockwell Williams, 24, was arrested without incident and booked into jail on suspicion of two counts of murder, San Diego police homicide Capt. Jim Collins said.

The victims were identified as Detective Donna Williams, a 31-year department veteran who spent much of her career in the child abuse unit, and her 18-year-old daughter, Briana Williams, who graduated this year from Mt. Carmel High School and was headed to college on a softball scholarship.
“Donna and Bree were best friends,” Don Portugal, one of Briana’s softball coaches, recalled at a vigil Monday afternoon. “They were as tight as a family can get.”

About 300 mourners gathered to comfort one another and share stories about the mother and daughter. Friends wept as they placed flowers on the pitcher’s mound at Canyonside Park.


Neighbors called police to the two-story house on Paseo Montril off Rancho Peñasquitos Boulevard about 1:20 a.m., reporting a violent disturbance and saying they heard a woman screaming for help.

Officers found Briana still alive on a sidewalk in front of the house, and the body of her mother in a bedroom upstairs. Officers and paramedics performed CPR on the teen, but she died minutes later.

A large kitchen knife, believed to be the weapon used, was found on the front lawn, Collins said.

It appears the girl had been on the front balcony and either jumped or was pushed off. A screen on an upstairs window was dislodged.

Brian Williams, who shared the home with his mother and sister, was found sitting next to his sister’s body and was taken into custody.

Collins said investigators do not know what precipitated the attack. He said it appeared that the mother had been awake because her television was on and she was dressed. Family members told police that Briana often slept in the nude, which would explain why she was unclothed. There was no evidence of a sexual attack Collins said.

Officers were called to the house on June 30 for a prior disturbance but the issue had been resolved and no arrests were made, Collins said. He declined to elaborate.

Donna Williams, 52, was born and raised in Santa Monica but moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State University, where she majored in social welfare, according to an article last year in the San Diego Police Officers Association newsletter.

Williams joined the Police Department in 1980 after spending time working with children at the Hillcrest Receiving Center, the article said. Her goal was to work in the child abuse unit.

“She was known as the cornerstone of the unit,” Collins said at a news conference Monday. Williams’ colleagues referred to her as the Queen Mother, he said.

Collins said it takes a special person to work child abuse cases. Williams had several opportunities to transfer out of the unit, where she spent 22 years, but she always declined.

The mother of five helped in the notorious Danielle Van Dam case, interviewing more than 25 people over the girl’s 2002 disappearance and murder.

“She was a good lady, a good mom and a good detective,” said homicide Lt. Ernie Herbert.

Williams was his mentor when he came to the child abuse unit as a detective, Herbert said. He joked that when he returned to the unit as her boss, he worked for her rather than the other way around.

Her husband, Howard Williams, a retired gang sergeant with the department, died from cancer in 2007.

The death was hard on the family, especially on Brian, those close to the family said Monday.

Briana, a softball star named Division II Pitcher of the Year, played a tournament in Arizona when her father was ill and dedicated the game to him. Her team won the game, and her dad died about two weeks later.

Briana, who also was a high school cheerleader, was set to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study fashion design and was going to play softball for the Division II Urban Knights.

The mother and daughter spent the past weekend in Huntington Beach for a softball tournament with the Renegades travel team, where Briana’s future coach was watching her play, said Joe Villanueva, whose daughter plays with Briana. Villanueva also attends Maranatha Chapel with the pair.

“She was a standout athlete,” he said.

Her friends recalled Briana’s “loud” personality and wild sense of fashion. Mourners wore cheetah-print ribbons in her honor at the vigil.

“She was one of the most beautiful people I ever met, inside and out. She was the only person I could go to if I needed to laugh,” said fellow cheerleader Tiffany Swenke.

Grief counselors will be at Mt. Carmel High from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Those who know the family expressed shock at the circumstances surrounding the deaths. Little information about Brian Williams was available Monday. Collins said it did not appear that drugs or alcohol were involved in the killings.

Brian attended two semesters at Maranatha Bible College and was involved in a church in downtown San Diego, family friends said.

His mother told the police union’s newsletter last year that Brian was immersed in “God and church.”

Son Howard Williams III, a San Diego attorney, said the family had no comment on Monday’s tragedy.

The flag in front of Police Headquarters downtown was lowered to half-staff, and officers placed black ribbons across their badges.

“We are a family,” Collins said. “It’s devastating.”

kristina.davis@uniontrib.com • (619) 542-4591 • Twitter @kristinadavis
THE THIN BLUE LINE
"The Child Abuse Unit is one of the most difficult assignments for a police officer. Donna had been there since 1989. It's what she wanted to do, to help the kids. She was the queen mother of the unit. She's the one other detectives went to when they needed help with a tough case."

Captain Jim Collins
San Diego Police Department.
Wife of Det. Sergeant Howard C. Williams