Victim's mother; my son's accused killer was once his friend
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Laronda Townsend had had a rule for her son Darrius, 17, ever since they moved into Chattanooga's Woodlawn Apartments public housing project.
"Every time I hear gunshots I pick up the phone, I look at the time," she says. "If I don't see him at home, I'm calling."
When Darrius didn't answer June 1, she feared the bullets were meant for him. Her hurried trip to Taylor Street confirmed it.
"I just went hysterical," she says. "He was still alive, he was saying Mama, and I was saying D, please tell be what's going on--who did this."
Darrius would die at Erlanger Medical Center before he could tell anybody. Police would say they had no leads ten days later, when he was laid to rest.
Ms. Townsend didn't know what to believe when police arrested Lonta Burress, 17, for her son's murder Sunday night.
"I done fed that boy," she says, through tears. "He done spent the night! Not two months ago, he came to me and said 'Auntie, can I take a bath in your apartment?'"
"Then you hear em saying', it was planned, it was over a girl. I'm just, from my thinking, Dee didn't have a beef with anybody," she says.
"I don't know what their prior relationship may have been," Chattanooga Police Sgt. Jerri Weary tells Eyewitness News.
But police know of Burress, at least since the Coolidge Park shootings in March 2010. They considered him a prime suspect, until witnesses either failed to show up for court, or were unable or unwilling to point fingers when they offered testimony.
"When people don't cooperate or testify, all our hard work goes away," Sgt. Weary says. "And that puts this individual back on the street."
Fast-forward to December 8, 2010. Burress faces three charges of aggravated assault, after witnesses say three teenagers in a pickup truck sprayed a bus-stop on Through Street. The incident led to a high-speed chase, a collision at McCallie & Willow, and a crash that totaled the pickup at Willow & Garfield.
"It's frustrating for law enforcement because we see that these individuals are seen in case after case after case," Sgt. Weary says.
"The law is crazy," Laronda Townsend says.
Burress is being held on $1 million bond. Townsend plans to attend his first court hearing Friday.
She wants nothing more than to ask Burress why she no longer has a son. And why 3-year-old Darrius Devontay Pulliam Townsend Jr., no longer has his father. She doubts she'll ever get the chance, much less an answer.
"He (Burress) needs to stay in jail the rest of his life," she says. "This the only way you can get him off the street? For somebody to die?"