Dorothy Chissell stopped in midsentence during our telephone conversation Tuesday night. “Can you hang on?” she asked. “I want to watch a video about my son … Wait, wait. Lord have mercy, I’m looking at my boy.”
She put the phone down to watch a television news story about her son’s kidney being transplanted into the ailing body of a friend. She had already been told that her son’s liver was saving someone else.
Then I could hear her voice break, and she started sobbing as she described how much she loved her son’s face when she saw it on the screen.
When she returned to the phone, I told her we could finish the interview later.
Instead, she apologized to me for leaving the phone. She was ready to continue.
Her son, Shelby Holmes, was shot and killed last week.
Police have no killer or motive. Dorothy Chissell has 38 years of memories.
By all accounts, Shelby Holmes was the guy least likely to be a victim of violence. That’s what everyone has said in the days after he was gunned down. The thing about senseless violence is that everyone is a potential victim.
In the week since his death, there have been several news accounts of Holmes’ kind spirit, his volunteer efforts as a longtime statistician for McKinley High School athletics, his work at and love for LSU and that he was, overall, a good guy. Holmes was much more than that. He was his mother’s best friend and daily source of conversation.
Chissell tells the story about how Holmes, the first of her four children, always amazed her, from elementary through high school.
He wasn’t big on playing sports. He was more into volunteering to help people.
He graduated salutatorian at McKinley High, but told his mother that had he worked harder, he could have been valedictorian.
“I felt great with him being the salutatorian. But, he always wanted to do better,” she said.
After high school, he went to work at Xerox Co. in Rochester, N.Y., but left that to enter LSU.
He never finished college. He worked with LSU sports information, then went on to work at the Baton Rouge River Center. Interestingly, Holmes either walked or caught rides everywhere.
Holmes never learned to drive a car. “You know Shelby never asked to drive,” his mother said. He resigned himself to walk most places, and the length of the walk didn’t bother Holmes. On Monday, Oct. 21, Holmes took a walk home that ended abruptly.
Detectives arrived at her home around midnight and knocked on the door. She couldn’t imagine what they wanted with her.
“They said that something had happened to Shelby. All I could hear was that he was in an accident,” she said. But there was more.
“I leaned over and said, ‘Tell me. Tell me.’ ” Her son had been shot and didn’t look good.
As pain swept over her, Chissell said , “One of the detectives said a prayer with me. That was so nice. He didn’t have to do that.”
“You know the thing about Shelby is that the person who killed him, if he asked, Shelby would have offered him a ticket to a game,” she said.
One thing about cases like Holmes is that timing is everything. The night he was killed, his mother said he remained at work a while longer than usual because “he was probably watching Monday Night Football” before heading home.
He didn’t call his mother for a ride.
Police said he was shot several times as he walked in the 1700 block of Braddock Street, just a couple minutes from his Missouri Street house.
“I wish whoever did this would turn himself in. Please, it would give me a little closure. It is very frustrating,” she said.
Chissell buried her son Friday.
The last thing she said to me in the interview broke my heart.
“You know, he was almost home … just a little bit further and he would have been home.”
Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter, aepratt1972.