The phone rings. It’s Aug. 6, 2018 when a local mother picks up the phone and receives a devastating phone call.
Her 19-year-old daughter is missing.
“This happens to other people. This isn’t supposed to happen to me,” mother Kiersten Bragg recalls feeling at the time.
Prior to this day, Bragg had always lived what you could consider a normal life. After graduating from Grossmont High School in June 1998, she became pregnant with her first child.
As with most teenage mothers, Bragg was afraid and nervous to tell her parents about the pregnancy, however after the initial shock, her parents became her biggest supporters. Bragg recalled enjoying the journey through pregnancy.
On July 18, 1999, in San Diego, Bragg welcomed Kiera Lanae Bergman into the world.
Kiera was a happy baby, always smiling and giggling. Bragg wanted her daughter to play softball as she had, but Kiera was more interested in fashion, makeup and loved singing in choir.
After graduating from high school in spring of 2017, Kiera received a grant and went to cosmetology school to pursue her passion for hair and make-up. Bragg explained that Kiera often talked about how she wanted to give free haircuts to the homeless after she received her cosmetology license.
In November 2017, Kiera met a man on Tinder – an account a friend had reportedly set up for her. Bragg’s first encounter with Kiera’s new boyfriend, 22-year-old, Jon-Christopher Clark, at a family event, wasn’t great. She recalls thinking there was just something about him that didn’t sit right with her.
“What does a 22-year-old want with an 18-year-old?” Bragg wondered.
Bragg’s uneasy feeling only became stronger after Clark started taking control of her daughter’s life.
Slowly Clark began isolating Kiera from her family and friends. She placed her personal phone line in his name and after a while she dropped out of cosmetology school.
“Before she met him she was doing good. She had a good job. She had her own cellphone – her own line. She had her own car. Then she got with him and all those things started to go away. He started controlling everything,” Bragg said.
Just four months after meeting him, Kiera moved to Arizona with Clark.
“Once she got to Arizona, he canceled their cell phones, so she no longer had a cell phone line. The only way we could talk to her was through Facebook Messenger or Instagram messaging,” Bragg explained.
She explained that Clark insisted Kiera take a title loan out on her car to pay for furnishing their new apartment, since neither of them had obtained employment after their move. Once Clark received the money, it appeared to vanish and the apartment remained unfurnished.
Kiera found a job working at a leasing company in the call center while Clark remained unemployed. The pressure to pay the bills seemed to fall solely on Kiera, resulting in her working two jobs. But, Bragg felt that even then they were barely getting by.
A month after moving Kiera and Clark split up. Her high school best friend, Destiny, had relocated to Phoenix and Kiera reached out to Destiny. They decided to get an apartment of their own.
Bragg was relieved and took advantage of being able to speak to her daughter again to express her concern about the controlling behavior she had seen in her relationship with Clark.
However, Bragg’s relief was short-lived.
Not long after their initial split, Kiera and Clark were back together.
“Kiera would always make excuses for him – like ‘Mom, he said he’s going to change. I’m going to give him another chance,’” Bragg remembered.
Clark moved into Kiera and Destiny’s apartment and the previous behavior resumed. Time between family conversations grew longer and longer.
Clark was on probation in California and was required to appear in court frequently. Kiera would sometimes accompany Clark on his trips to California, although Bragg only saw her daughter twice – once for breakfast and once for dinner.
During the dinner visit, Bragg and Kiera’s 17-year-old sister, Braydee, became even more concerned when Clark began arguing with Kiera over the menu.
“He made it very clear that they were going to get what he wanted,” Bragg recalled as she had watched her daughter sink down in her seat. “I could just see her whole demeanor change.”
That was the last time that Bragg saw her daughter.
On the morning of Aug. 6, 2018, the phone rang. It was Kiera’s roommate, Destiny.
Kiera had been missing for two days.“I started panicking,” Bragg explained.
A missing person’s report was filed with the Phoenix police department. But, they weren’t concerned, as adults have the freedom to go “missing” if they want to.
Kiera and Destiny had gone to work together on Saturday. While they were at work, Kiera got into a fight on the phone with Clark. Destiny said she was really upset and came to her asking to go home. Clark picked Kiera from work and that was the last time anyone saw her.
When Kiera failed to show up to work on Tuesday, Bragg’s concern grew stronger. She and Braydee packed up and headed to Phoenix in search of her missing daughter.
“I was confused and in denial. The whole time we were there I was hoping it was a misunderstanding and she was going to show up,” Braydee recalled of the days after her sister’s disappearance, “At first, I felt bad making and putting out a missing person’s flyer because if she did come home, I didn’t want her to be mad at me or embarrassed.”
They took to Facebook, Instagram, local and national media and even contacted a television show, “Live PD,” which ran the missing person’s segment. The hashtag, #BringKieraHome, floated through homes across America as the search continued.
As time passed, the Phoenix police department began an investigation. Kiera’s car was located in Clark’s possession and a search warrant was issued. Clark was arrested on the unrelated charges of identity theft and forgery.
With her daughter no where to be found, Kiersten began to feel hopeless. “Deep down, I had this feeling she wasn’t with us anymore. It’s just a feeling you get as a mom. But I didn’t want to accept that, so I held out hope that she was still out there.”
On the morning of Sept. 5, 2018, Bragg was sitting on the couch when she received a phone call from the detectives telling her that her daughter’s body had been found.
Bragg explained that she broke down in devastation, bawling.
“She got off the phone and I said ‘Mom, what’s wrong?’ I had a really bad feeling in my stomach and I was like, ‘no – no! It isn’t true,’” Braydee remembers of her mom’s reaction. “She started scream-crying and I was crying.”
Later, Clark was charged with the murder of Kiera.
The hashtag #BringKieraHome quickly changed to #Justice4Kiera.
As the investigation continued, it became evident that Kiera had been a victim of domestic violence. Bragg remembers a conversation she had with Destiny after Clark was charged with murder when she admitted Kiera would have bruises from Clark aggressively grabbing her.
Kiera’s remains were brought back to San Diego. Although Bragg never imagined bringing her daughter home in this way, she was relieved to at least have the closure.
While Clark sits in jail awaiting trial for the murder, Bragg knew she had to do something.
She decided to become an advocate against domestic violence in San Diego County. She started an Amazon list where anyone could donate needed items to local domestic violence shelters. The donations flooded in allowing Bragg to take thousands of donations to local domestic violence shelters in Kiera’s honor.
A self-defense class, “Kick Butt for Kiera,” was held in her honor at Valhalla High School in El Cajon. The event was sold out, with 50 participants.
In an interview with Fox5 San Diego, Kiersten pleads, “Even if we help one person out there that’s going through this, to keep them [from] having the outcome she had – that’s my goal right now.”
With hopes of starting a domestic violence foundation in Kiera’s honor, Bragg remains active in the community raising awareness. The motivation is two-fold – keeping her daughter’s memory alive while helping others who may be in a similar situation get out before it’s too late.
“What has helped is knowing that she is in heaven. Knowing that she isn’t suffering. Knowing that I will see her again. Knowing and praying that I can hopefully help get someone else out of a situation like she was in before something devastating happens to another family,” Bragg said.
Still available on Amazon is the list of items that can be donated in Kiera’s honor to local domestic violence shelters in San Diego. Efforts have crossed county lines with a team named in honor of Kiera for the Mary Kay 5K run in Riverside. The magnitude of Kiera’s disappearance can be felt nationally with multiple donation drives in Kiera’s name popping up in several other states.
Seven months after Kiera went missing, Kiersten is just now beginning to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life. While a mother’s heart will always be heavy for the loss of their child, Kiersten is learning how to smile again.
Recently, Kiersten began a new job working with children, something she has always loved to do. “I am actually functioning now. I started working full-time again, which has been good,” Kiersten said of regaining control of her life. But she plans to continue advocating for young women like Kiera.
“Kiera had so much to live for, so much good she could have done in the world, but someone took that away from her,” Kiersten says, adding advice to anyone facing domestic violence is simple – “It’s never too late to ask for help. You are not alone.”