A better life was almost within Laronda Townsend's reach.
Townsend, who lived in Woodlawn Apartments, recently found a job. It would be enough to get health insurance for her and her 17-year-old son, Darrius.
The job at Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits would be enough to help them move away from the hand-to-hand drug deals right out in the open, wails of sirens and the sounds of gunshots that ring through what people call the "Woodlawns."
"Everything was falling into place," a resigned Townsend said Monday afternoon, five days after her son was gunned down in the street during a botched robbery for drugs and money.
"There's something going on there every day and night," she said. "It's been killing after killing in this neighborhood."
Chattanooga police have not made an arrest in Darrius' June 1 slaying. A Hamilton County medical examiner's report released Monday shows an assailant shot him once in the head and once in the back.
Darrius was walking on Taylor Street, a dead-end street with heavy pedestrian traffic, connecting Windsor Apartments and Woodlawn Apartments to Milne Street.
On Monday, a growing pile of stuffed animals sat on the edge of the sidewalk and on a pink torn armchair. Friends of Darrius' spraypainted messages reading, "RIP Dee."
"This is Dee's spot," said 22-year-old Dominic Jones, who stood straddling his bicycle as a couple of other friends paid respects. "If you want to see Dee, you have to come here now."
Someone knew Darrius had some marijuana on him and attempted to rob him, Townsend believes.
"They had to kill him because he knew who they was," she said, sitting at a family member's home amid roses and sympathy cards.
Darrius, like many teens his age, was learning his way in the world the hard way. His mother was out of work. He had a 3-year-old son named after him. He knew they needed money to live.
"He always said, 'Momma, I'm going to take care of you. We're going to be all right. We're going to do this together,'" she said, noting that he recently began doing custodial work at an office.
He had two charges pending in court, one for an aggravated robbery charge in November and one for cocaine possession in February, according to court records.
Townsend said her son was innocent on the robbery charge, but the cocaine possession he admitted to.
"He tried to take matters into his own hands and be a man," she said. "He didn't have to do that. That's why I work for. ... He got the charges and it was a wake-up call. I told him he was going to be 18. 'You've got to start taking care of your son.'"
Townsend received the news that he'd been shot when her 21-year-old daughter called. His mother made her way to the scene and saw his red-and-white shoe lying in the street. A police officer kept her back from her son.
"He was still alive. He was calling out, 'Momma,'" Townsend said as tears rolled down her face. "He was shaking his leg. He was talking to me and I was talking to him."
Townsend is accepting donations for Darrius' funeral expenses at a bank account set up under his name at the SunTrust branch on Brainerd Road. She said she hopes to one day start a foundation to prevent violence and help the grieving family members of homicide victims.
"You have a child," she said, thinking of her son. "That's my soul."
Contact staff writer Beth Burger at email@example.com or 423-757-6406.