Tina McKee moved to Lakewood with her teenage son to give him a fresh start.
Others told her she needed to get him out of South Tacoma, she said, and she did. To an apartment with a pool, weight room and basketball court, places she figured would give him things to do.
A month after they moved, 15-year-old Chase McKee was shot in the head outside their home, and died days later from his injuries. He was feet from their apartment door when he was hit, she said
“All I can do is miss him every minute and every second of every day,” she said.
On Wednesday, the three young people charged for her son’s death were sentenced in Pierce County Superior Court. Their prison terms ranged from more than 10 years to nearly 25.
Deputy Prosecutor James Curtis told Judge Stephanie Arend that the shooting March 3 was a cowardly act, and that Chase died for no reason.
According to charging papers, he was shot when a friend’s feud with an ex’s new boyfriend escalated, and the new boyfriend fired into a group of teenagers at the apartment complex.
Arend agreed the shooting was senseless, and noted the shooter, 23-year-old Billy Williamson, didn’t have a violent criminal history.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and she gave him a mid-range sentence of 24 years, seven months behind bars.
Williamson read a letter in court, in which he apologized to the McKee family and his own.
“I’m a respectful kid who made a terrible mistake,” he said. “... Now I’ve lost all respect for myself.”
“I’ll wait a lifetime for forgiveness from you guys,” he said.
The shooting happened in the 8300 block of 83rd Avenue Southwest, after Williamson and McKee’s friend exchanged threats online and the friend invited Williamson to fight.
The girlfriend, 16-year-old Malisha Morales, drove Williamson and 16-year-old Zachary Glover to the apartments, where the opponent and friends gathered outside.
As they pulled up Morales shouted, “shoot,” and Williamson fired into the crowd.
Arend gave Morales and Glover, who are now 17, low-end sentences of 10 years and three months, after they pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Neither had criminal histories.
Defense attorney John Meske said Morales grew up in a fractured family. She dropped out of school in the 10th grade and had been living on the streets, he said.
“Words cannot express how sorry I am,” Morales told the court.
Arend agreed it didn’t appear Morales had any adult guidance in her life. The judge also said: “But for her involvement, I don’t think there’d be a shooting, much less a murder.”
Defense attorney Bryan Hershman told the court Glover had been armed with a BB gun that night, and that he’s made behavioral and academic improvements in juvenile detention since then, despite cognitive challenges.
Glover told the court he’s sorry, and that he thinks of Chase often.
“I pray for him every morning,” he said. “Every night.”
Arend told him those prayers, while appreciated, likely don’t make the McKee family’s loss any easier.
Tina McKee told The News Tribune that her son liked playing basketball and video games, and doing tricks on his BMX bike.
His raps were a hit at family gatherings.
“Most of the time he would tell me to walk away, because he didn’t know if they would be appropriate in front of mom,” she said with a laugh.
He wanted to go to Western Washington University, and thought he might want to be a police officer or firefighter one day.
He babysat his baby niece, who is now 18 months old, McKee said.
“He changed diapers, he made bottles,” she remembered.
In a school assignment, he wrote that he knew he was going to be a good dad when he grew up.
She misses making her son breakfast.
“He told me he had a better day if I made him two over-easy eggs with toast and a glass of milk,” she said. “My boy would drink a gallon of milk a day if you’d let him.”
He was the sort of kid who sent his mother messages from computer lab class, to say he loved her.
In their Tacoma neighborhood, she recalled, “I’d hear a gunshot or something and my heart would skip a beat, and he’d say: ‘It’s OK, Mommy, nothing’s going to happen to me.’ ”
She didn’t think he’d been hanging out with the wrong people in Tacoma, but she said some “might not have been the best influence on him.”
By not being in school, for instance.
So they moved.
She said she worked long hours to afford the new apartment, and that Chase was responsible for chores at home. He’d been doing well with that, and they planned to get him a new cellphone as a reward.
He was shot the day before they were supposed to go to the store.
“When they did the second MRI, that’s when they told us that even a miracle wasn’t going to save him,” she remembered.
McKee sometimes leaves flowers at the shooting scene.
She put a rose in a bullet hole in the fence when she came home from the hospital after his death.
All that’s left is the stem, she said.