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Mother of student killed in Graduation Day shooting reflects one year later: ‘Why my son?’

<i>WTVR via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Tameeka Jackson-Smith returned to the spot where two of her closest loved ones were killed
WTVR via CNN Newsource
Tameeka Jackson-Smith returned to the spot where two of her closest loved ones were killed

By Tyler Layne

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    RICHMOND (WTVR) — Tameeka Jackson-Smith returned to the spot where two of her closest loved ones were killed, exactly one year after it happened.

She laid down flowers and, surrounded by family, said a prayer for strength.

“That’s how I get through,” Jackson-Smith said.

And it’s what pulled her through the toughest 12 months of her life.

On June 6, 2023, her son Shawn Jackson and husband Renzo Smith were fatally shot in Monroe Park following a Richmond Public Schools graduation.

They were two of the seven people struck when gunfire erupted shortly after Huguenot High School’s commencement ceremony at the Altria Theater. The five other gunshot victims survived.

“It felt like yesterday. You don’t want to believe it’s been that long,” Jackson-Smith said. “The pictures of what I saw are kind of rushing back. It’s a lot.”

The violence that was carried out that day still doesn’t make sense to Jackson-Smith even after she sat through the entire trial against the man who pleaded guilty to murdering her son, Amari Pollard.

According to Richmond Police and court records, Pollard and Jackson knew each other and had had conflicts in the past.

Four days into the February trial, Pollard unexpectedly took a guilty plea after Judge Reilly Marchant instructed the jury not to consider Pollard’s claims that he acted in self-defense.

Marchant balked at arguments that Pollard was fearful of Jackson’s armed friends, who he claimed made threatening statements to him. No evidence surfaced in court showing Jackson ever had a gun.

The judge pointed to the fact that Pollard got a gun from his car after seeing Jackson and returned to the park before shooting him in the back.

“If you were scared of somebody else, what made you take my son’s life? You made it to the car. You could’ve left. What made you come back and take my son’s life? I don’t get that part,” Jackson-Smith said. “Why my son?”

Jackson-Smith felt the outcome brought her family justice – but not the “correct justice.”

The plea deal sentenced Pollard to 25 years in prison.

“I was at peace to accept the plea deal. I felt like God put it on my heart to just go ahead and just release – release the anger. He’s going to have life when he gets out. My son ain’t going to have nothing,” Jackson-Smith said. “My son can’t have kids. He could have kids. My son won’t be able to get married. He’s going to be able to get married.”

She added she has not spoken to Pollard’s family, who also was present throughout the entirety of the trial in the same courtroom.

But there are still unanswered questions. She still doesn’t know who killed her husband but added proceedings are starting soon.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin said she isn’t releasing any information at this time, because the remaining suspects connected to the shooting are underage and “some cases” are still pending.

“I want to know everything from A to Z, because I feel like we’re owed that,” Jackson-Smith said.

Jackson-Smith believes “things could have been done better” regarding the school division’s safety measures leading up to and on the day of the graduation.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Richmond Public Schools pledged to improve safety and security at future graduation events. The district precluded eleven seniors from participating in their graduation ceremonies in 2024, citing safety concerns with the involved students.

“Everybody else’s family is getting safety measures though. Everybody’s getting protected graduations now. Schools are getting more protected, but my baby didn’t get that,” Jackson-Smith said.

A third-party investigation report into the district’s handling of the incident was only released after CBS 6 and the Richmond Times-Dispatch sued the Richmond School Board for violating open record laws when it initially refused to make the documents public.

The report revealed that school personnel knew of threats of violence against Jackson, which his mother warned them about. The threats were also part of the reason why Jackson was a homebound student, meaning he was not permitted at school or at school events.

Despite this, investigators found RPS allowed Jackson at graduation without “any adherence to required authorizations and without proper vetting and consideration of safety concerns that were known by several members of Huguenot High School.”

A school counselor told Jackson’s mother she would “just squeeze him in” the day of the ceremony after Jackson-Smith asked the counselor whether he should attend the rehearsal.

“They knew, and if anybody sits here and tells you they did not know, they’re lying. They know,” Jackson-Smith said.

“Do you feel like they dropped the ball in how they responded to this?” reporter Tyler Layne asked.

“Yes, because I asked. I wouldn’t have ever, ever brought my son here if I felt like his life was in danger. I asked before we even got here, ‘is it okay?’ And I was reassured once again, ‘everything is fine.’ It’s not fine. Look at me and my family. It’s not fine. It’s not,” Jackson-Smith said tearfully.

She added, “I don’t know who’s responsible, but I want to get down to the bottom of it, because where was security? Where was anything?”

Jackson-Smith said she has not spoken to her son’s counselor since the report was released.

This mother feels an aching pain that will never go away, one she acknowledged other parents affected by gun violence are unfortunately familiar with.

“It’s not fair. Somebody’s got to do something,” Jackson-Smith said. “We shouldn’t be burying our kids.”

Her warning to other parents is to stay on top of their kids’ social media, which she called “the devil.”

Social media can sometimes contain signs of impending violence or conflicts, which police said was present in this case.

“It’s a lot of kids out here who need help, but focus on your child and know what they’re doing, where they’re at, who they’re with,” she said.

From here on out, Jackson-Smith said she’s leaning on therapy and her faith in God to take it day by day.

But she’ll forever miss her husband’s dedication to the family and her son’s uplifting smile.

“If you could send a message to Shawn today, what would you want to tell him?” Layne asked.

“That I’m so proud of him, and I love him so much. You did not fail. You didn’t fail us,” Jackson-Smith said.

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