Community mourns another victim of drive-by shooting: Carlesa Taylor inspired friends and family.
by Joelle Allen
"Something is wrong. She isn't moving."
That's what Dionne Weathers thought as she checked the location of her daughter, Carlesa Taylor.
February 26 was a busy day for the family. Carlesa toured Adrian College before her basketball game at 4:00 pm where she earned 20 points for her team. Wanting to celebrate, Carlesa asked her mom if she could drive to get food shortly after 6:00 p.m. Carlesa normally drove herself, but this time she decided to ride with friends. She was supposed to get food and return home immediately. As Weathers saw Carlesa’s location, she quickly realized her daughter was far from any place she recognized.
Carlesa had been sitting at the intersection of Ashton Road and Schoolcraft for over an hour.
“When I got off work, I was sitting in the lobby, looking at her location. I noticed she was in a location that was weird. So I called my daughter, Chard’e Thurmond, and I asked if she had heard from Carlesa. Chard’e tried to call her because sometimes she won’t answer for me, but she’ll answer for her sister,” Weathers said.
When Carlesa didn’t answer her sister, Weathers jumped into action. She followed her phone map to her daughter’s location. When she arrived, the police had already roped off the area. Navigating her way through a crowd of confused and concerned onlookers, Weathers went to the nearest officer, desperate for information as she showed people photos of her daughter.
“When I approached the police area, I tried to get beyond the ropes," Weathers said. "They wouldn't allow me to come past, and so I asked one of the police officers where she was. I said, ‘I’m looking for my daughter, and she’s in this location.’ He told me to wait a minute. They had discovered two dead bodies, but still hadn’t identified them. He said they would let me know.”
The police had determined that this was a drive-by shooting and a case of mistaken identity, where the victims were not the intended target.
As Weathers waited to hear back from the officer, a couple approached her. They began by apologizing; the first time she would hear anyone apologize for the death of her daughter.
“A couple walked over to me; it was a man and a woman. They said, ‘We’re sorry. Your daughter. When we got to the car to help her friend, her friend was still alive. We helped him, but the other two were not alive.’ And I can’t remember from there. I was so devastated,” Weathers said.
Weathers was hesitant to believe them, as she was still waiting to hear back from the police. She called her oldest daughter to help make sense of the situation.
“When my mom called me, a lot of emotions went through my head because I didn’t know what was going on. My mom was telling me they did something to Carlesa , and I was thinking 'What are you talking about? I literally just talked to her'. I told my mom to stop listening to those people. They didn’t know what they were talking about. I told her to wait until I got there,” Thurmond said.
When Thurmond arrived she instantly began sorting things out. Going into what she calls “second mom mode”, she tried to identify her missing sister.
“They let Chard’e identify her. They looked at her ID said it was Carlesa in the car. I blacked out after that. By the time her dad got to the scene, he was very very distraught. He was on the ground. People were screaming and crying,” Weathers said.
Carlesa Taylor was shot and killed while sitting at a red light. What was a nightmare for most had become a reality for those close to Carlesa.
After receiving confirmation that it was her, the police officers prepared for the arrival of the coroner.
“The police made a wall with their bodies around the car so that when the coroner was taking Carlesa out, we couldn’t see her. They were blinking white, flashing lights in our eyes, so we couldn’t see that they were bringing her out, but Chard’e could see her shoes. And Chard’e said, ‘Ma I see her feet. She had those purple and black shoes on. Ma, that was her.’ I was so sick from there. My world crashed,” Weathers said.
Though the family couldn’t see her face, Carlesa’s taste in shoes was as distinctive as any of her features. Purple and black were Carlesa’s favorite colors.
Thurmond remembered watching Carlesa get ready just hours earlier. With an age gap of eleven years between the two, Thurmond had always felt responsible for her baby sister. She relives the day, trying to find what she could’ve done differently.
“I feel guilty. I feel like I didn’t do everything I should’ve done that day. Everyone keeps telling me there was nothing I could’ve done, which is true, but it feels like I didn’t do my job. I wasn’t expecting this to be the outcome. Never in a million years did I expect to get a call that my baby sister was killed. Her name in the same sentence with gun violence. I would’ve never guessed that would be a reality for me. I just feel a whole bunch of guilt,” Thurmond said.
Carlesa was more than a sister. Thurmond spent her life caring for Carlesa as if she were her own daughter. Supporting Thurmond through the death of her boyfriend and best friend, Carlesa was all she had left. To Thurmond Carlesa was everything.
“When she came out of the womb, it was always me and her. At that point, I felt like I lost my child. When I saw my mom, and how she lost her child, I felt like I lost my child too because I literally just talked to her. I lost everything that day. Nobody will ever understand. I had been through a lot already. I already lost two people before her. So when I lost her, I lost everything. At this point there is nothing more you could take from me,” Thurmond said.
Instances of gun violence have become all too familiar to the family. Thurmond lost her best friend a few years earlier to gun violence, in a situation similar to her little sister’s. Thurmond's friend was in a car with someone she trusted, only to be shot and killed. Weathers also lost a best friend to a drive-by shooting. They were mistaken for someone else, just like Carlesa.
“My brother, he wasn’t killed, but he was shot about five times. I saw how my mother dealt with getting him through that and being in the hospital for over four months. It was very traumatic for our family because no one was ever shot. I’ve lost a brother as well, but he was ill, he wasn’t murdered. There's difference when someone is murdered. I had a best friend who was also murdered when Chard’e was only a year old. She was killed the same way: in a car and it turned out to be a mistaken identity. That was traumatic to me, but to turn around and lose a child in that way. I don’t understand. I never thought I’d be a part of this club. The mothers who lost their children. Not in a million years did I think something like this would happen, especially to Carlesa. She just didn’t live that type of lifestyle. That’s not the way she was raised. We always lived in good neighborhoods. I always sent her to the best schools. We live in a nice area and everything, suburban areas. I just tried to put her in a very positive environment,” Weathers said.
by Shawna Dellas
A billboard is designed to raise awareness, March 2021. “We want to stop the violence. We’re working on getting a build board up in the area where she was murdered. A young man has reached out to put some different projects together. He’s working a rally to stop the violence through Dearborn City Council. Her school is doing blood donations for the American Red Cross. I’m also working on getting another AAU basketball team together for her,” Weathers said.
Despite Weathers’ efforts, the dangers of gun violence still reached her family. Thurmond believes this can be credited to the growing importance of image in younger generations.
“Everyone wants to be big and bad. They want to seem gang-related because they think it’s cool but it’s really not cool when you’re taking people’s families away. Or your own life away for that matter. At this point, you’re taking your own life away when you get caught. I grew up on the Eastside of Detroit so that’s a norm for our neighborhood. It was a norm for my friends in high school to have guns. Nowadays, they’re trying to make it cool. But it’s not cool. In high school, my friends walked around with guns because they literally walked through neighborhoods they could get killed in. Now, most of the time, kids are trying to do this for clout and for a music video, and they think they’re going to get something for an image. This generation is different. Image is everything to them. Social media is everything to them. So, that all plays a part,” Thurmond said.
This image, however, comes at a price that is paid by innocent people Thurmond added. Carlesa was the last person anyone would expect to be caught up in such an event. To many, violence and Carlesa don’t even belong in the same sentence.
“She was very reserved. She was always shy. That was your first impression when you met her. She was always a mama’s girl. She was always right up under me as a little kid. She wouldn’t stay at anyone’s house, spend the night, or anything like that. She just wanted to be at home with me, or her dad, or with her sister. She didn’t want to go anywhere. She wasn’t good with change. So, I would call her more of a reserved type of person until she got used to you and was more comfortable with you,” Weathers said.
The only place where Carlesa needed no reassurance was on the court. It was there that Carlesa felt the most comfortable. At a young age, she became obsessed with basketball. She picked up the sport when she was only four years old. During middle school, she grew into a player that was destined for greatness.
“The first time I saw her play, she was in middle school. I knew I had to have a player like her. On the court, as a young player in 9th grade and 10th grade, she was very talented, but I don’t think she knew how strong she was. Then, in tenth grade to junior year it clicked. She really wanted this and knew it was something she could pursue after high school. She became an assassin after that. She became very calculated in the way that she approached each game. That's when I knew she was on her way to success,” Jeffrey Hachigian, Carlesa’s former basketball coach, said.
By Dionne Weathers
Carlesa Taylor and her coach, Raul Jenkins, pose with a trophy after winning their Division Championships at Ecorse High School, February 2020. “I want it to be known that she worked hard for basketball. She had a great work ethic, and we’re going to continue working hard while she’s gone. We’ll make sure her legacy lives on because basketball was her thing. It’s what she loved to do,” Thurmond said.
Despite Carlesa’s talent, she focused more on a future in sports medicine than playing professionally. She saw basketball as a way for her to achieve her larger goals.
“Carlesa wanted to go to college and play basketball at the next level. She also wanted to be independent. She wanted to have her own place and a nice car. I didn't go to her game the day she was killed, but earlier that day her mom and I were on a college tour at Adrian College. It was an outstanding visit, a beautiful bonding time for all of us. I remember it like yesterday. When I dropped her and her mom off at home, Carlesa and I talked in my vehicle. She had questions about life. I told her I loved her. I was proud of her. I told her to be a leader, not a follower, and to ask God to help her understand things. We ended with a smile and a hug,” Robert Taylor, Carlesa’s father, said.
He recalled Carlesa’s last day as a happy one. She was excited about preparing for her future, and her family was excited for her.
“She became confident in herself. She knew what she wanted to do. She worked hard for it. I was proud of her for working and playing basketball and sticking with it to get scholarships to go to school. I was proud of the fact that she was graduating. I was proud of everything because she was growing up and I got to see it. I was just proud of her,” Thurmond said.
Carlesa was surrounded by love from her family and friends. They supported her in everything she did. The strongest example of this support would be the acceptance Carlesa faced after coming out as gay to her parents.
“Carlesa came to me and told me that she was gay. I still loved her. That's my child. We just wanted her to be respectful, put God first, and do what was right no matter what. And I saw that in her. I saw her change from not knowing who she was to knowing who she was. I guess it was something that she was fighting with, but that made her even stronger,” Weathers said.
Hachigian has identified Carlesa’s support system to be one of the key factors in her success and he believes that people can help her legacy live on by doing the same for girls in their communities.
By Dionne Weathers
Carlesa Taylor’s friends gather at a memorial basketball game held in her honor, March 12. “She had her friends and I swear they were like my kids. To this day they call me mom. They come around and I feed them and they sit around and talk with me. They just want to be in her space. They want to be where she was. They want to look in her room. They want to look at her clothes. They just want to see and be around her because that’s what they were used to doing. So I want to continue the love that she had for her friends and her family,” Weathers said.
“We can start by giving the girls a platform, and making them feel comfortable enough to share how they’re feeling. We used to have a mother’s club for AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] that helped. The moms would come together and once a month they’d all sit and talk about women's issues. Whether it’s self-confidence or self-motivation or determination, or just accountability and showing respect. There are just so many life skills that they learn and that they’ll use in their lifetime,” Hachigian said.
Friends and family members close to Carlesa are working to provide the resources she had to girls throughout Detroit. To share her daughter’s love for the sport, Weathers has created Carly Way Foundation in Carlesa’s honor. Billboards have been put up to call for justice, and Carlesa’s family continues to speak out against gun violence.
“Carlesa's legacy should be as such: a young black female teenager with a passion for God, family, basketball, and a passion to succeed no matter what. She never hurt anyone or ran in bad circles. She was a victim of senseless violence that plagues our black community,” Taylor said. “That bullet stopped a young black female's future, all she would have accomplished, and tore a family's soul and spirit inside out.”