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‘You take that light away from a family and it’s devastating’: Loved ones mourn loss of 15-year-old Shadrach Hall-Turner

By Zoe Sottile, CNN

(CNN) — “It takes a village.”

The adage comes up often when Shadrach Hall-Turner’s family discusses the 15-year-old’s life. Shadrach was born in October 2007 in Washington state. When his parents started struggling with addiction, a loving and close-knit network of extended family members stepped in to help care for Shadrach.

Now, that village is devastated. Shadrach died in February, shot in the neck while playing video games in a friend’s basement during a snow day in Reardan, Washington.

One of the teens there that day entered a plea deal on charges of first-degree manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm as a minor and was sentenced to two and half years in juvenile detention, according to CNN affiliate KXLY. Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Walser told CNN all evidence suggested the shooting was “careless” and “reckless” but “unintentional.”

Shadrach “was the one who brought joy,” Tina Hall, Shadrach’s grandmother, said in an interview with CNN.

He was “sarcastic – he’d do something funny to lighten the mood and make everybody laugh,” said Mary Hoyt-Sims, Shadrach’s great-aunt, who took legal custody of him when he was a toddler. “You take that light away from a family and it’s devastating.”

Shadrach is one of more than 1,300 children and teens killed by a gun so far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Firearms became the No. 1 killer of children and teens in America in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, which had long been the leading cause of death among America’s youth.

Gun violence is an epidemic in the US. Here are 4 things you can do today

“He was a brother. He was a cousin. He was a son. He was a grandson. He was a great grandson. He was a friend. He had multiple roles that he played. He was a star football player. He was all of those things,” his grandmother said. “He had an infectious, joyous smile and laugh and was always doing just stupid little things to bring joy to people. That’s who Shadrach is. And that’s the Shadrach that we miss.”

Shadrach was a talented multi-sport athlete and dreamed of playing for the NFL when he grew up, his grandmother said. “That was his goal – to be in the NFL one day and to buy a Bugatti and to buy his grandma a house,” she said.

Shadrach’s vivacious personality and commitment to bringing joy to others persisted despite his own personal challenges. His great-aunt had legal custody of him for most of his life, but he bounced around and lived with a combination of aunts and uncles across the state, as well as his grandmother. He also maintained a relationship with his mother and lived with her for several years.

The 15-year-old had a limited relationship with his biological father and instead his mother’s partner, Justin Ellery, filled that role – even teaching him how to play football. Justin unexpectedly died in 2016, when Shadrach was just 8 years old.

“I, as a 62-year-old woman, have never even been through anything like that,” said his grandmother. “I can’t imagine as an 8-year-old boy what that’s like.”

But just as his extended family offered love and support to him, Shadrach turned that love and support onto others in his life, like his younger brother, Laythan.

“Shadrach took his little brother by the hand and was the one that was there and told him, I think more than anyone, that he is going to be OK,” recalled Jody Ober, Shadrach’s other great aunt.

His relatives say he was often one of the only students of color at school, which was sometimes challenging. But he used his vibrant sense of humor to “put people at ease” and fit in, his great aunt Mary said.

“It’s hard to be that kid that’s different,” she said. “And he had a way of having a good spirit about it and making people comfortable.”

At Shadrach’s funeral, they had to turn people away because the turnout was so big, Shadrach’s grandmother said. They invited attendees to write goodbyes on his casket with Sharpies and laid out a Lego Bugatti, a football and a carton of chocolate milk as tributes to some of his favorite things.

“Shadrach was destined to make a difference in this world,” she said. “And obviously by the outpour and the number of people at the funeral – he had made a difference in a lot of people’s lives. And he was destined to continue to do that. I think he would have been an incredible adult.”

Read other profiles of children who’ve died from gunfire

For Shadrach’s family, the grief is ongoing. Family members told CNN they’ve watched milestones pass for other children with an undercurrent of grief, the feeling that “Shadrach should’ve been here.”

Shadrach’s mother remembered him as an “amazing boy, one of a kind” in a message to CNN. She said it was still sometimes hard for her to get out of bed in the devastating months after his death.

And seemingly mundane experiences are now tinged with loss.

“French toast was his very favorite,” said his grandmother. “We’re six months into this – we still haven’t had French toast.”

“It’s a never-ending thing, that hole that’s there, that part of your heart that goes with them,” said his great aunt Jody. “It never comes back.”

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