MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A senior at Lanier High, Chauncey Blackburn played basketball for his school, loved pecan pie, hated for the house to be quiet and was planning to join the Air Force.
He was a knucklehead, Alvin Rollins said — the kid who always had to get in the last word. Just like any other teenage boy, he made mistakes — but he always admitted when he was wrong, his grandpa said.
Two years since Chauncey died, shot three times while driving along the 2700 block of Zelda Road, his family is asking the person responsible to do what Chauncey always did.
“Step up and be accountable for what you did,” Rollins said. “You took a life.”
Shot just before midnight on Feb. 24, Chauncey had a 20% chance of surviving, his family was told. After his surgery, it went up to 40%. As the days passed with him in a coma, Rollins started preparing the house for his return home. Two weeks later on March 14, he died from his wounds, doctors say.
Not knowing who is responsible for the shooting has caused his family to cast a wide net of suspicion.
“Because no one has been arrested, it makes you feel weird when you get out. People start talking to you and you’re wondering, ‘Who are you?’” Rollins said. “You see people in the age group that possibly killed him, and you’re like, ‘Who are you?’
The impact of Chauncey’s death is far-reaching. The older grandchildren avoid coming over now, the absence of their brother too much to bear.
His youngest brother, DeKarian, now 7, is overwhelmed by the sound of gunshots that are common in their neighborhood. He says he wishes all the bad things in the world — a list that includes guns, drugs, cussing, the middle finger and gangsters — weren’t real .
“He does things that are totally unbecoming of him because he is grieving,” Rollins said. “It’s like PTSD."
The person responsible for Chauncey’s death didn’t just take his life, “Whoever did the crime destroyed a family,” he said.
“All you can equate it with is glass shattered on the floor. It’s devastating,” Martenia Logan, Chauncey’s paternal grandma, said.
To his family, Chauncey was a different kind of kid. He loved driving. He loved being outside. He loved to cook, albeit he did catch the kitchen on fire once trying to fry bacon.
“He was one of those who wanted to try everything,” Linda Walker, his maternal grandma, said. “He wanted to try parachuting. He wanted to try hang gliding. He wanted to try everything. It was like he had no fear.”
At one point, she said, laughing, he wanted to be an alligator hunter.
He loved animals, too. He found a puppy while skating that he begged to keep. His parents relented. And, when that dog, Hachi, passed, Chauncey made a cross bearing his name to place on the grave out back. There were also the exotic chickens — K and Oreo — that he refused to let his grandparents get rid of. They found themselves impressed by the amount of research he put into figuring out what kind they were.
Initially, the circumstances around his death seemed clear — but it didn’t take much investigating before the path to solving the crime went cold.
Just nine minutes before the bullets entered Chauncey’s car, he had gotten into an altercation with another teenager at his girlfriend’s job, the family said. When Chauncey, his girlfriend and sister left the pizza shop, the other teenager also left with his group of friends. Video shows that group in line at a drive-through, making it impossible to be where Chauncey was on Zelda Road when the shooting occurred.
Despite police explaining this to Rollins, he had to drive the route himself to make sure. He tried a few ways, he admits, but came to the same conclusion.
“We were told it could have possibly been road rage,” Rollins said. “He was probably angry from the argument, he could have cut someone off.”
Speculation isn’t an answer though, and he is frustrated with the lack of attention he believes has been given to the case.
“Don’t cast everything out like, ‘Oh, it's possibly gang related,’ or ‘Oh, it was road rage’. Even if it was, don’t you think you should put an effort into what happened? … You have a killer walking around. Suppose he feels brave now, and he says ‘Oh, I got away with the last one, maybe I’ll do it again.’ ”
Rollins used to call the police station quite often, he said, "but just to keep hearing there’s nothing, you kind of get tired of that."
Logan also wants answers.
“He was a young man. He was going places. He had a future, and he was on his way to becoming someone who could contribute to this big round ball we sit on in a positive way. And I just hate so badly that we haven’t, at this point, brought to justice the person who cut his life short,” Logan said.
The loss is constantly on their minds, but even two years later, there are brief moments where their mind tricks them into thinking he is not gone.
At dinner time recently, “I accidentally called Chauncey to the table,” Rollins said. “And then all I could do was stand there, and my little boy is standing there watching me, and I’m trying to make it a joke and play it off, but at the same time I want to cry, because I feel like I should be able to call him to dinner. That was our family time.”
The grief is felt in so many ways.
Since Chauncey’s death, 80 people have been murdered in Montgomery, largely due to gun violence. When watching the news, Rollins said he’s “gotten to the point of saying, ‘There’s another mother crying.’”
He’s beginning to regret the promise he made to Chauncey in the hospital that he’d find out who did this to him, realizing as time goes on he might not be able to fulfill it.
Prior to Chauncey’s death, the kids gifted Rollins a cup for Father's Day that read, ‘If papa can’t fix it, then we’re screwed.’
“Somebody out here knows who killed Chauncey,” he said. “I’m angry at the police department. I’m angry at the community. I’m angry at a lot of people because no one seems to … Imagine how this feels for me.
“How am I supposed to fix this?” he asked.
“This is destroying the people I love. It’s destroying me because I’m watching my family deteriorate.”
There are the dreams at night, seeing him walk through the house. There are moments when you think you can hear his voice, and immediately question if you’re going crazy. There’s the sweet text messages he sent that eventually had to be deleted so you can quit looking at them.
There’s the unfinished kitchen cabinets, because Chauncey was helping with the remodel. There’s the dread of Christmas shopping, because the last time with Chauncey was such a good day. There’s even a longing for the rough times to come back.
“The times we butted heads,” Rollins said, “I’d give a million dollars to go through that again.”