Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, began just as any other day in Terrebonne Parish.
For Ellender freshman honor student Cameron Tillman, it was a regular day consisting of a customary hangout session at an empty house frequented by him and his friends.
For 7-year Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s deputy Preston Norman, it was a typical shift – if there is such a thing for police work – until a devastatingly sad turn of events brought the two together in a way neither thought possible merely minutes prior.
All of a sudden, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, wasn’t your regular day in Terrebonne Parish anymore.
According to tireless reporting by our own John DeSantis, after receiving a call from a neighbor reporting boys walking around with guns, the deputy knocked and Cameron answered the door. Norman noticed that Cameron, who was likely expecting a friend to be on the other side rather than a law enforcement officer, was holding a pellet gun that for all intents and purposes looked like a real gun.
Fearing for his life, Norman fired four times, striking Cameron all four times, three of which lobbed in the teen’s chest – killing him.
Although it is seemingly impossible to take positives from an event like this, religion does its best to teach us that everything happens for a reason.
So what good could possibly come out of a 14-year-old losing his life far too soon with unlimited potential and so much left to accomplish?
Tough to say.
Maybe even tougher to predict.
But one thing that the Terrebonne Parish community can take solace in is the togetherness of our close-knit society, which could have come unglued during such a trying time.
Police-involved shootings, most specifically police-involved killings, have caught national headlines in recent years – mostly for the wrong reasons.
And thanks to our area’s uplifting rather than unraveling reaction to this depressing event, Houma, Terrebonne Parish and the bayou region as a whole kept this event from drawing the attention of reporters from all corners of the country.
Just take a look two states to the north in Ferguson, Missouri, where unrest ensued days and weeks after the killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by a St. Louis County police officer.
Obviously, there are stark contrasts between our local unfortunate situation and the one in Ferguson.
In the first deadly instance, a white police officer killed a black teenager, whereas in Houma both the shooter and the teenager were black.
Also, local law enforcement officials say Cameron opened the door with a pellet gun in his hand that strongly resembled an actual gun. In Ferguson, all accounts say Brown was unarmed.
Clearly both counts are the basis for much of the rage – and rightfully so – but a situation that could have torn our local society apart and placed a rift between those who protect and serve the community and the community itself has been averted with the help of the good people who reside here.
We’ve always been an area of resilience.
And once again we proved it.
There has been no rioting.
There’s been no unpeaceful picketing.
And most importantly, there has been no secondary violence after the initial unfortunate incident.
It may be small consolation for Wyteika Tillman and Morrell Turner who lost a son, Lionel and Beverly Tillman Shepard and Philip and Loretta Stovall Turner who lost a grandson and Andre Tillman, Keegan and Mari Turner and Jeffery Burton who lost a brother – including 18-year-old Andre who had to go through the pain of being present at the house with his brother when he lost his life.
Our hearts are heavy, too, for the officer who had to make a split-second decision when Cameron opened the door Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2014.
But for the rest of us, it’s proof that nothing can rip the bayou apart.
That’s why we at The Times take covering you and your stories to heart so much.