Marcus on her mind

in News by

Beaufort mother of slain teen remembers her son, wants to prevent others from joining the ‘members only’ club

By Mindy Lucas

When the page turned to a new year a few weeks ago, Shantay Odom realized she hadn’t been thinking of 2021.

But suddenly there it was.

Another year without her son, Marcus Graves, and another year he would never see.

It’s been 14 months since Graves’ body was found at Grays Hill Boat Landing about three miles west of U.S. Highway 21 and near the Seabrook community. The 16-year-old had been shot, his body found floating in water.

No arrests have been made and the investigation into his death – flagged as suspicious – continues.

Meanwhile Odom is left to pick up the pieces and if possible, carry on as best as she knows how. 

“I try to take it one day at a time,” she said recently from her home in the Forest Fields community. “If I don’t, I feel like I’m going to go crazy.”

Having rarely discussed publicly the events that preceded Graves’ death, Odom, a single mother who was trying to raise two teenage boys on her own at the time, recently sat down to talk about what happened that day all those months ago.

For Odom, the grief of losing a child in the manner in which she lost hers, is ever present. And it’s something that unless you’ve gone through it yourself, you can’t know what it feels like, she said.

“I tell people it’s like that song – ‘Members Only,’” she said, reciting a few lines from the song by blues singer Bobby Bland.

“Members only, it’s a private party. Don’t need no money to qualify.

Don’t bring your checkbook, bring your broken heart.

‘Cause it’s members only tonight.”

Halloween 2019

On Halloween morning of 2019, Odom woke up with “a bad feeling.”

She doesn’t hide the fact that her son had been on probation with the Department of Juvenile Justice prior to that Halloween.

While she wants to keep private the circumstances of what landed Graves in trouble, she did say that he had spent some time at the AMIkids camp, a community residence program for non-violent juvenile offenders.

It was an experience that seemed to re-focus Graves. He was adhering to his 9 p.m. curfew set by the Department of Juvenile Justice, and had even landed a job at Burger King.

“He was doing really good and getting back on track,” she said.

In addition, Odom had tried to get her son, a popular junior at Battery Creek High School, some extra attention.

Knowing boys didn’t always listen to their mothers, Odom had reached out to friends and family who could talk to Graves or spend time with him.

“Sometimes they are more likely to listen to someone else,” she said.

Odom had also made an appointment with Graves’ probation officer to have an ankle monitor placed on her son, an option the department had advised her to consider.

Odom had kept her son out of school for the appointment, but the probation officer never showed, despite numerous calls Odom made the day prior to the appointment and after the appointment.

Meanwhile, Graves who didn’t exhibit any sign of anything unusual that Halloween day, asked Odom if he could go to a Halloween party later that night.

Odom said no and reminded him he was on probation.

However, in the early part of the evening, Graves left the house with some friends who picked him up in a car. Odom, who saw him leave, wasn’t immediately alarmed because Marcus had never broken his curfew and was always back before 9.

But when his curfew passed and he was not home yet, Odom became worried.

Thinking he must have gone to the party anyway, Odom called the sheriff’s office. She also tried Graves’ phone but her calls went straight to voicemail.

“And that never happens,” she said. “He would always call or text me back.”

As the night wore on, with still no word from her son on his whereabouts, Odom couldn’t sleep from worrying.

“I always stay up until I can lay eyes on my kids,” she said. “And I don’t go to sleep until I can say, OK they’re in this house and they are safe.”

By the next morning, Odom was distraught. Friends tried to reassure her saying he was probably just asleep at one of his friend’s houses.

Odom was at her neighbor’s house across the street trying to remain calm when the police cars started arriving.

“I was thinking something happened, but maybe he was in the hospital or something,” she said.

Back at her home, with the house filling up with police officers, someone finally told her an unresponsive male had been found.

“It still wasn’t sinking in yet,” she said, her voice cracking. “I’m still thinking he’s alive but maybe just in the hospital.”

Finally, someone told her it was her son, and he hadn’t made it.

“I just started screaming, ‘Oh God, no,” she said.

The coroner’s office later determined Graves had died from a gunshot wound and drowning.

According to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Bob Bromage, the case is still actively being investigated.

“We continue to interview parties believed to have knowledge (of the case) …,” Bromage said.

Remembering Marcus

Now, more than a year later, Odom fills her days taking care of herself and eldest son Akeem who will be 19 soon. And she thinks of Marcus all the time.

“I miss his voice, that smile, that sense of humor that he had,” she said. “Both of my kids always made me laugh.”

One Fourth of July, Graves, something of a practical joker, set off firecrackers in Odom’s bedroom scaring his mother.

“They scared the heck out of me,” Odom said. “He’s on the floor laughing, and I said, ‘You know what, wait until I get my oxygen back.’”

The outgoing teenager had a lot of friends and he loved music, especially rap.

He and his brother sometimes “fought like brothers,” Odom said, but they also stuck up for each other or would defend each other against others.

“They were best friends,” she said.

Graves also participated in an in-school program called “Men of Strength,” or MOST. Introduced by the local nonprofit Hopeful Horizons, MOST was designed to prevent domestic and sexual violence by teaching young men how to have healthy relationships.

Graves, who would mow lawns in the summer for extra money, would also mow lawns at Christmas to raise money for Hopeful Horizons, a children’s advocacy, domestic violence and rape crisis center.

After Graves died, Odom was determined to keep her son’s name front and center and the work he had done for the center going.

That Christmas, Odom organized a fundraiser and prayer vigil in his memory and the community turned out with donations of toys and other supplies for the center.

People dropped off all manner of things for families – from unopened toys, to baby formula to diapers and baby supplies.

That fundraiser was followed with a balloon release and smaller, more intimate event on the first anniversary of Marcus’ death in 2020, again with donations going to Hopeful Horizons and though she had wanted to do a second annual Christmas fundraiser, Odom thought it best not to hold one due to the spread of COVID. 

The family’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

“We are truly touched and honored the family has donated in Marcus’ memory,” Hopeful Horizons CEO Kristin Dubrowski said. “Building something out of the tragedy, out of that loss can be very meaningful.” 

Dubrowski said it was even more meaningful to know that Graves had once participated in one of their programs and worked to donate money to the center.

“To have a young man to do that, that’s just amazing,” she said.

Tragically, losing a child is a club no mother wants to find herself in, Odom said thinking of the ‘Members Only’ song.

She has met other parents who’ve had a child to die from gun violence and has tried to be there for them like those who were there for her after her son’s death.

One mother whose son was shot in his car, said she would be by Odom’s side. 

“She just said, I’m going to be there for you and pray with your family,” she remembers.

And recently she was there for another mother whose 17-year-old was shot and killed in Port Royal.

“Because somebody reached out to me, I reached out to them,” she said.

Looking to the future, Odom still tries to take each day as it comes but is hoping this Christmas, once COVID is under control, she can once again hold the Christmas fundraiser in Graves’ name.

It’s important to keep his name out there, she said. So that people won’t forget what happened to him.

“Somebody has to talk for him,” she said.

It’s not an easy thing – to think about what your child’s life could have been like, the grief that never quite goes away, but changes or takes a different shape with each passing day.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “All we want to do is help these kids and help these mothers, so they won’t have to be part of this club. We don’t want people to go through what we went through.”