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Model, mother, addict, corpse

She was strikingly beautiful, smart and full of dreams. The winner of a modeling contest in her hometown of Phoenix, she moved to New York to show off fashion for names like Donna Karan.

On the surface, hers was a fairy tale life, her family said.

But Jaana Roberson's life story was a tragic one. Her parents said she was an HIV-infected, crack-cocaine abuser who wanted nothing more than to turn her life around.

She didn't.

Instead, her life ended amid tall grass and palmettos near St. Petersburg's Booker Creek, where her decomposed body was found Saturday, far from the flashy Manhattan fashion runways she dreamed about as a teenager.

"Her smile was the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen," boyfriend Chris Campbell said. "She was so real, so sweet. . . . She had given up hope on a lot of things. It was just the damn drugs."

Police say Roberson's body had been in the grass for several days. They are investigating the death and treating it like a homicide. Roberson's parents said police told them they think their daughter was raped before she died, raising the possibility that she passed her virus on to her killer.

Police have not released her cause of death, saying only that she was the victim of a homicide. No arrest had been made in the case by late Sunday.

Roberson's boyfriend and family are left to ponder what could have been, had the promising young model avoided the temptation of drugs.

Her parents believe the problems started when she was 13, the product of an interracial marriage trying desperately to fit in with other kids in their mostly white, middle-class neighborhood. Her father, an African-American computer engineer, met her mother, a white native of Finland, while he was working in Scandinavia.

Still, she was an only child and they pampered her, said her mother, Ulla. "She was a sweet girl, an ideal child," said Fred Roberson, her father.

Though her parents said she struggled to fit in with other kids in their neighborhood, Jaana seemed to cope, graduating from Moon Valley High School in Phoenix in 1989.

In 1990 she got her big break, winning the female modeling category in a contest called Arizona's Top Models and Talent. The following year, the 20-year-old took off for the bright lights and glitzy fashion runways of New York City's garment district.

She landed a job with designer Donna Karan, her father said. She hoped to eventually become a runway model, but was quickly derailed by drugs. Her modeling career ended before it ever really started.

"She got involved with cocaine in New York, and it started affecting her career," her father said.

Jaana tried holding down other jobs, including a stint as a cocktail waitress at Manhattan's Whiskey Bar, her parents said. But she was an addict, and eventually checked into a drug-treatment program sponsored by the Salvation Army, they said.

Fred Roberson traveled to New York for two weeks to convince her to come home and get treatment, he said. But she resisted.

In 1993, Jaana Roberson got pregnant and learned she was HIV-positive. Again, she seemed to cope. On the advice of her parents, she left New York for Florida, where she entered a program in Pinellas Park for pregnant drug addicts.

For a time, Roberson even spoke to high school students, encouraging them to have safe sex. During one of those talks last March, she told a group of St. Petersburg High School students that she contracted the virus by having unprotected sex as a high school student.

For a while last year, she was clean, her parents said.

In October 1993, she met Campbell, who helped her through her pregnancy and acted as the baby's father.

Brijaana was born Feb. 22. She, too, was HIV-positive.

"She may not have the opportunity to go to school, go to college or a prom," Roberson told the St. Petersburg students during an assembly. "I have to live with that guilt and shame every day."

Indeed, little Brijaana _ "Bri," as her mother called her _ didn't even have the chance to celebrate her first birthday. She died Aug. 2.

"She was crazy about that baby," Ulla Roberson said. "She was a good mother. That's what destroyed her."

Campbell said that's when the drug problems began anew. Roberson began hinting that something was amiss, he said.

"She couldn't handle it anymore," he said. "Last weekend she had some drinks and she said she didn't have much time left.

"She told me that when she died she'd be my guardian angel and she'd be looking down on me from heaven. It's very important because all I've got from her are memories and photographs."

Campbell said Roberson would frequently leave their apartment for days at a time on "missions" for crack cocaine.

The two last spoke on Tuesday. When Campbell didn't see her for a while, he figured she was on a binge for drugs. But something seemed different, he said.

"I had a bad feeling this week," he said. "I told myself she's not coming back. She didn't."

Police continue to investigate. It wasn't known Sunday whether there were any suspects, but Campbell said it was probably drug-related.

Campbell said he cared little about who did it. Only one thing would satisfy him, he said.

"I just want her to come back," he said. "She's never coming back."

And Fred Roberson is pondering his final act as a parent.

"I feel bad I didn't tell her how much I loved her. She told me a month ago she wanted to come home and I told her she had to show me she was serious about kicking the cocaine habit by entering a program. Now she's dead.

"If I had it to do over again, I would've said, "Come home.' "

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