I was looking at my media feed on Facebook recently when pain leapt from the screen into my heart. It was my friend Paula Collins writing about the murder of her grandson.
“If the murderer(s) who killed my grandson, Brandon Kyle Chatman, is reading this post, know that I don’t hate you for what you’ve done. I refused to add to the hatred and evil that you have released into the universe,” her statement said. “However, you’ve got to realize that there are consequences for our actions. How that plays out for you is above me now.”
Her grandson was among the more than 100 homicides in Baton Rouge in 2020. Brandon was 25 years old when he was found dead on an apartment complex walkway. He had been shot multiple times.
Paula represents the emotional toll the raging violence and murders is taking on families here and across the country. The 45 seconds on TV and four or five paragraphs in newspaper don’t represent the tortured loved ones left grappling with pain.
I called my friend.
“Ed, unless you’ve gone through this, you have no idea what it does. Every thought, every dream I had for Brandon is gone. It’s buried with him,” she said. “I have not been graced to be out of pain.”
Those are tough words for Paula, an evangelist who teaches the word of God.
Two people were arrested in connection with the killing. Neither are in jail. They have not been indicted by a grand jury. There were a record 114 homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish in 2020. Sadly, the body count in 2021 is currently on pace to surpass it.
That’s the news side. This is the human side.
Paula calls the perpetrators “Cowards with guns,” and says she can’t figure out why they use guns to settle arguments. “If you can be so bad to kill someone, why do you run away?”
“I am angry. I am puzzled and confused sometimes by this. It’s a whole gumbo of things. … I want to have a conversation with the guilty parties,” she said. “But you know, I am not surrendering myself by hating people who do evil things.”
Paula’s evangelist side had another message: “To all murderers … one day you will have to give an account for your actions. Stop. Repent. Find another solution to deal with your disagreements.”
Paula’s daughter, LaKisha Chatman, who is Brandon’s mother, says dealing with the almost daily news accounts of murders here is often too much to bear.
“I try to shy away from the news when I hear another mother trying to deal with what I’m dealing with,” she says. “I wish that something can be discovered about what makes someone want to take a human life for nothing. How could someone be so heartless?”
“You know, I think about what my son was feeling like at the moment he was shot. He was alone and you think about you couldn’t do anything to help,” LaKisha said. “You try to think what was he thinking. That plays out over and over in your mind. I don’t think it will ever go away.”
LaKisha describes going to the scene of the shooting, hoping that somehow the information she had gotten was wrong. “I asked the police officer if the body was my son. … The police officer came back a few minutes later and handed me my son’s wallet. It was like I was in a dream. … It was the most awful feeling I ever had.”
Brandon’s 2-year-old son was in the car waiting for his father when he was shot and killed, she said. Brandon has another child who was born a few months after his death. “Brandon was a great father,” she said. “This is so sad.”
LaKisha says she does get some sense of relief by participating with other mothers in similar situations. “It is comforting to talk with them. It provides some help for a while,” she said.
And, here’s something the headlines and the stats don’t tell you, but LaKisha wants people to know.
“When you think about your child dying like that, you just can’t realize how much it hurts. “There is a brokenness,” she said, “that you have to deal with for the rest of your life. … They have to stop.”