Alton Park drive-by shooting leaves children motherless

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Family members of Monica McMillon, killed inside her Alton Park home when someone shot at her house from the street on Tuesday night, gather in the home of her mother Brenda McMillon, second from right, on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Sitting with her are the victim's sister, Amanda Crowder, left, and two of the victim's three children, Matthew McMillon, left, and Malik Jones.

Malik Jones had just started watching a movie with his little brother and sister Tuesday night when they heard a staccato downstairs.

The floor of their second-floor bedroom in Alton Park shook. Jones wondered what commotion had erupted between his mother and a man downstairs. But the staccato continued to ring, the floor continued to shake. Ten, 20 seconds. He realized that someone opened fire. But who?

photo Monica McMillon

Jones, 16, locked the door. He turned off the lights. He told his siblings - 6-year-old Tatiana and 3-year-old Matthew - to move away from the window, to lean against the closet.

The gunfire ceased. The house fell quiet, save for the sounds of "Annie" on the TV. A few seconds later, and Jones was unlocking the door, and telling his siblings to stay in the room, and running downstairs. He was wondering if the shooter was waiting for him, and if he could sneak his brother and sister away from their Highland Avenue home.

Then he got to the kitchen, where he found his mother.

"Just lying there," he said, one day later. "I looked her in the eyes. I couldn't I just started stuttering."

Jones called 911, then his grandmother.

Soon after the shooting, 37-year-old Monica McMillon was declared dead, the victim of a drive-by.

Neighbors say she couldn't have been the target of the attack. She was a single mother, a shy but friendly woman. She kept to herself.

On Wednesday, Chattanooga police spokesman Mark Frazier said "suspect information is limited." He said leads are still streaming in and that investigators will pursue them as long and as thoroughly as they can.

Today, Jones and his siblings will spend their first Thanksgiving without their mother, wondering when police will find the shooter. They are staying with their grandmother. And like any other year, they plan to rotate to two or three houses, grabbing food from an aunt and some cousins. They will celebrate, like they always do.

"Everybody's going to be grieving," Jones said. "Everybody's got their process and stuff. But most people know that she wouldn't want us to be all sad for too long."

Added 38-year-old Felicion McMillon, the victim's cousin: "We're still breathing. And because we're still breathing, we have to move forward. And in order to keep on living, we have to keep eating."

Jones is a sophomore at Howard High School and a member of the Young Men of Distinction, an etiquette program aimed at training inner city students to become leaders. Because his mother had to be at work at Pilgrim's Pride every morning at 5:30, Jones always woke Tatiana and Matthew and brought them to their bus stop for the Barger Academy before going to his own classes.

Jones wants to go to college, though he doesn't know where. He used to want to be a comedian like Kevin Hart, but he doesn't like speaking in front of groups. Now, he's thinking about becoming a philosopher - or a police officer.

He and his mother used to be close, he said. They would go to Coolidge Park when he was younger. She would watch him ride the carousel and play in the fountain.

But then he became a teenager, and she gave birth to Tatiana and Matthew. He began to spend more time in his bedroom, on the phone with friends from school.

He used to be jealous of how much time his mother spent with his sister and brother.

"With time," he said, "I accepted it. They're smaller. They need more attention than I do. I can take care of myself."

He also understood his mother was busy. She was a single mom. Before her job at the chicken plant, Monica was a cashier at the Fast Stop on the corner of Wilcox Boulevard and Dodson Avenue.

Her former co-workers said she was like a sister to them. Many of the employees have worked together for several years. They see the same customers every day. On Wednesday, as news spread, some of the regulars stopped by to make sure what they heard was true.

Employees put two white buckets in front of the cash registers, asking customers to donate any money they could to McMillon's children.

"We are mourning the loss of our dear beloved family member," someone scrawled on the buckets in black marker.

"One of the sweetest girls you'll ever meet," said 46-year-old Curtis Russell, a Fast Stop employee.

Friends and family described McMillon as shy, but kind. She liked to join in on the fun, even if she wasn't the center of attention. She smiled a lot.

Asked what her hobbies were, they said she spent her free time with the children.

The drive-by shooting outside McMillon's home was one of three shootings in Chattanooga on Tuesday. A man was also shot in Miller Park, and two more people were shot on South Holtzclaw Avenue. None of those were fatal.

McMillon's death also marks Chattanooga's 28th homicide of the year, surpassing the city's total number in 2014. Last year, McMillon's cousin, Keiara Patton, was shot to death in College Hill Courts. The suspect in that case, Taylor Satterfield, is due in Hamilton County Criminal Court on Jan. 25.

McMillon's family wonders when the shootings will slow down.

They aren't hopeful.

"We talk about it," said her sister, 33-year-old Amanda Crowder. "We complain about it. But it keeps happening. And it's going to keep happening."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at [email protected] or at 423-757-6476.