Wherever she was had a low ceiling, and cramped dimensions. There were pillows on what looked like a bench to her left, and crockery on a shelf. As I stared, Nikki raised what looked like a blowtorch…no, a gun. A rifle of some sort. Then she turned around, walked to the narrow, partly curtained doorway, and passed through it, into the flaming space beyond.
The video kept going. The fire grew stronger beyond the doorway, and there were sounds of crackling flames and soft whooshes as things ignited. The doorway curtain caught fire, sparks flew, and then smoke began obscuring any view at all, even the glow of flames.
People seeing the video’s live broadcast posted urgent responses. I’m trying to get you help. What’s burning? Hey, what’s going on? Yikes, girl. This is scary. Are you okay?
The screen was almost black now as thick smoke filled the space where the smartphone had been propped. Suddenly there were sharp popping sounds, like firecrackers. The video had been recording for more than four minutes. And then came the worst of it.
Nikki began screaming. The muffled wails lasted a full 15 seconds, rising above the popping sounds in the flaming space beyond the doorway. And then abruptly the video stopped.
My head was spinning. I could barely breathe. I wasn’t sure exactly what had taken place, but knew it was very bad. What I’d seen felt like a horror movie. Except this was real.
Did Nikki just kill herself? That was one of the thoughts I had.
We should have known something like this might be coming.
The previous June, Nikki had gone missing for four days. Around 4:30 A.M. on a Friday, her 1997 Toyota pickup had gotten stuck in the Tiger Bay Wildlife Management Area, a vast wooded wetland near Daytona Beach. She called 911 in need of assistance, and during that hourlong call talked frantically and confusedly to the dispatcher. It was obvious she wasn’t mentally well.
Nikki told the dispatcher she’d been exploring the forest in her truck. She said her boyfriend had been kidnapped by “outlaws,” and that she could see spirits when someone was about to die. When police got to the location, they found a tan pickup stuck in mud, but no Nikki.
Four days later, around dawn Tuesday morning, Niki walked barefoot out of the woods, a mile from where she’d left the truck. She was muddy and disheveled, but incredibly, she had no serious injuries. Media reports made reference to her “survivalist background” and said she’d “spent time in the woods in the past.” Somehow Nikki had managed to take care of herself for 96 hours in a Florida cypress swamp full of alligators and snakes.
She told searchers she’d been hiding because she thought someone bad was looking for her. Police snapped a photo of her seated in the back of a vehicle wrapped in neon yellow rescue garb, mud caking her feet and ankles, face grim.
They took her to a nearby hospital for a mental-health evaluation.
And now, in the aftermath of the video she shot on what turned out to be an unmoored sailboat in a Daytona Beach marina, Nikki was again declared a missing person.
It would be five days before authorities found her, dead in the charred boat.
During this time, Florida media referred often to what had happened to Nikki a year earlier, in the Tiger Bay woods. But they also reported on something else that helped make sense of the horrific Facebook Live video, which remained on Nikki’s timeline.
The night Nikki shot it, a Daytona Beach woman named Betty Jo Garcia called 911 at 2:15 A.M. to request police action. She wanted them to evict Nikki from the boat.
“My husband’s been having an affair with this stripper for a year and a half,” Garcia related. “She’s been living on my boat for two days now. I was out of town, so I had no idea this woman was on my boat. I want her off my boat. I want to file a restraining order because she keeps calling and blowing up my phone.”