Shawna Bobst said she barely remembers the months after her son was shot and killed in June on Columbus' Northeast Side.
"I think in the beginning, I was just numb. I didn't even know what to do. For an entire week, I just kept saying, 'What do I do? How do I handle this? My son was murdered, and there's two suspects on the loose,'" Bobst said.
Bobst, 47, of New Albany, lost her son, 18-year-old Layton Ridgedell, to gun violence in June after he and another teen were shot and killed on the Northeast Side. Earlier this month, two teenagers, Baron Anderson, 16, and Terrell Hicks-Freeman, 15, were arrested and charged with two delinquency counts of murder in each in the slayings.
As she begins to navigate the process of seeking justice for her son, Bobst said a local organization, Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children, has been bringing her insight from experience and peace through sharing her experiences with people who can understand.
"Everyone can tell you that they're sorry, but nobody really understands until they've lived it," Bobst said. "It's a life sentence of grief that you can't do on your own. You have to have someone there with you; you have to have someone that has been through it."
Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children group honored by U.S. Justice Department
The U.S. Department of Justice and the office of Kenneth Parker, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus, also will recognize Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children and its cofounder, Malissa Thomas-St. Clair, on Tuesday with the "Serve Thy Neighbor" award for their positive impact in their community.
The award will be presented at a ceremony Downtown at the Joseph P. Kinneary U.S. District Courthouse.
Thomas-St. Clair, a math teacher with Columbus City Schools who lost her son to violence in 2013, said the group focuses on working to end violence that adds more mothers to their "sisterhood," and advocates for justice for those who have lost relatives to violence.
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Mitchell Seckman, law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Southern District of Ohio, said Thomas-St. Clair and the organization were nominated by the Columbus Division of Police and received the award because of the work they are doing to change the discourse around violence in Columbus and throughout the state.
"It's such a difficult subject that isn't easily spoken about - and because of (Thomas-St. Clair's) experience and her background - when she talks, people listen," Seckman said.
Thomas-St. Clair's 22-year-old son, Anthony, was stabbed to death on April 29, 2013 by Richard R. Cochran, 51, when he went to collect a debt from the sale of promethazine, a prescription antihistamine with codeine. Cochran was sentenced in 2014 to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter.
Support, outreach are goals of mothers' group
Thomas-St. Clair said the organization has several focuses: serving as a support group for mothers and families who have lost children to violence, an adult division that works with offenders to help them re-enter society, and a youth division that focuses on engaging with young people from a crime prevention perspective.
The group also emphasizes community engagement and outreach, which Thomas-St.Clair said is the most visible element of the organization. She said the goal is to unify the community, community leaders and law enforcement against violence.
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When she helped launch the group in 2020, Thomas-St. Clair said it was a gamble because of the protests that year around racial injustice and the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. She said trust of law enforcement among people of color was at an all-time low.
"Our foundational purpose is to make sure we reunify what's so broken right now," she said. "So for us to stand out on the island and say, 'This is going to be our olive branch and our bridge,' that was risky. And I'm glad to see that it's paying off and to see that we can be neighbors together. We can work with one another to reimagine the safety of our city."
Seckman said the work that Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children has done to bridge gaps and encourage dialogue speaks for itself.
"It's one thing to act as a support group, it's another to go out there and do proactive stuff to change the narrative of the shootings and the violence," Seckman said.
Bobst said the organization has helped her get in contact with homicide detectives, helped her set expectations for a timeline in the courts system and generally helped guide her through the process of justice and grief.
"You never move on from grief, but you can accept it, and it's hard for me to do that because it's a murder and every so often something is coming back and haunting me," Bobst said. "I can't say enough good things about them. I wouldn't be as far in my grief process if it wasn't for them helping me with grieving."
Thomas-St. Clair said the federal Serve Thy Neighbor award validates the work Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children is doing, and emphasized that it's recognition that belongs to the whole organization.
"This award is not a Malissa Thomas-St. Clair award. This award is for the Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children and everyone who supports us," she said. "This is a group effort - not one person can do this by any means.
Thomas-St. Clair said that when she accepts the award it will most importantly be for "the mothers who are putting their pain out there for the purpose of community engagement."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children honored by feds