Marvella Williams wasn’t expecting her 17-year-old son Karlonzo Taylor to die before she did, but he did. On a weekday in December 2018, Karlonzo became one of more than 7,000 Black boys and men who were fatally shot in the United States that year.
She received a phone call from one of her son’s friends. Karlonzo and his best friend James Harris had been shot, the friend said. It took Marvella a few hours to find which hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, her son was at. And hours later, in a St. Francis Hospital waiting room, Taylor was pronounced dead.
“They said that they were trying too hard to revive him,” Williams said. “And they couldn’t do anything else for him because his body crashed, kept crashing.”
Marvella was devastated. Her only son was shot in the chest multiple times while hanging in the hallway of a friend’s apartment building after school. His best friend had been shot, too, but survived.
“It was the worst hour, few minutes of my life, knowing that I would never get to see my child or even say goodbye to him or see him take his last breath,” she said.
Marvella’s birthday fell between the day Karlonzo died and the day of his funeral, which was just before Christmas: “I couldn’t get a hug from him for my birthday. So I had to call the coroner and had them get him so I could go and hug him for my birthday. It was the most horrible thing ever.”
Life Without Karlonzo
Williams remembers her son as a young man who wanted everyone to be treated equally and to have the same opportunities he had. An aspiring veterinarian and civil servant who loved to spend his time helping others without expecting anything in return.
She sees him in the places they used to go — church, Subway, Dunkin’. In the nearly two years since Karlonzo was killed, Marvella has struggled to enjoy some of their favorite things like pancakes, or the homemade barbecue sauce and fresh carrot juice he’d make.
“I have not had a pancake since then because it was just too painful,” she said. “It would put me in such a depression mode.”
Losing Karlonzo, Marvella says, has changed everything about her life.
“We did everything together, whether it was church, going to the store, going to plays, just doing everything together,” she said. “I lost the companionship, I lost the helper in the kitchen because I loved to cook, so I lost that person to help me on a daily basis.”
It’s even pushed her to leave her home, at first to stay with a cousin in Bloomfield, Connecticut, then to Miami.
“I cannot go to sleep. My home is just not home anymore,” Marvella said. “It’s so difficult because I’m not waiting for him to walk through that door to say ‘hi Mom,’ or ‘goodnight Mom.’ It’s difficult for me even to relax in my own home or go to bed because of such a senseless loss, that someone took that away from me.”
That someone, police say, is Bill Moore. Bill was 24 years old when he allegedly shot Karlonzo. He has been incarcerated since then.
Marvella Williams has seen Bill Moore — in court.
“Believe it or not, I have forgiven him. I’ve forgiven him because it’s not for me to say,” she said. “I’ve tried to do the most Christian thing possible to forgive him for taking my son’s life.”
She said forgiveness came quickly because Bill apologized. He told the police, his mother and the judge that he never meant to shoot Karlonzo. They didn’t know each other. Marvella says her son protected his friends: “I always say he was the shield. And he’s always been the shield for his friends. And he died being a shield for his friends.”
For Marvella, days in court can be long, and the time leading up to them is anxiety-ridden. After the shooting first happened in December 2018, she couldn’t bear to go. Instead, she headed back to her native island of St. Kitts.
Since then, she’s been at nearly every court date, playing a Christrian radio station in the car on her way to meet her daughter at the courthouse. Karlonzo knew not to touch the dial on his mother’s radio. Laminated pictures of him that his friends made to wear at a vigil hang from her car’s rear-view mirror.
“I’ve always had him in my phone as Prince Karlonzo, and my friends used to tease me. They made fun of me calling him my prince,” Marvella said. “He is my prince of peace because all he wanted was peace among his friends and among everyone else. Because he shared love and peace and kindness, and that’s what I taught him.”
The last court date Marvella attended was in February, before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Since then, the dates have continued to be postponed. In many ways, it prolongs her suffering. Marvella isn’t the only one whose life has changed because of her son’s death.
His best friend James Harris, who survived that shooting, dropped out of high school for a few months. And Bill Moore, the man charged with the shooting, lives with the reality that he’s the reason Karlonzo Taylor is no longer alive. Bill’s mother, Tenesha Lee, worries about her son being in jail. For these three families, gun violence changed everything.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.