LAWRENCEVILLE - Delisa Collins was back-to-school shopping for her daughters on the muggy evening of Aug. 3, perusing the busy aisles of Ross and Rack Room Shoes. It was Friday. She had just been paid. Her only concern was finding the right bargains.
Elsewhere in Lawrenceville, Collins' eldest daughter, Kristen Ivory Hannon, was being whisked to Gwinnett Medical Center, the victim of an accidental .357 magnum blast to her chest.
In a matter of minutes, the 17-year-old known to her mother as Ivory would be dead. The aspiring fashion designer, the big sister, the dancer, the volunteer, the girl with innumerable best friends, would not be those things anymore.
Collins returned from shopping at 9 p.m. to find her home eerily quiet. Her phone rang. It was a friend, asking her to come to the hospital but not revealing why. Collins thought the call was so vague it had to be a joke. She hung up.
This, in Collins' words, is when "the nightmare unfolded."
Perhaps instinctually, Collins felt something was amiss. She walked up the street in her Springlake Cove subdivision to visit a woman nicknamed "the neighborhood mom." Again, Collins was directed to the hospital. This time she went.
A Gwinnett Medical Center doctor told Collins of her daughter's fate. She recalls the doctor as methodical, a professional trained to unhinge people's lives gently, to keep them from collapsing.
Somewhere in the hospital corridors, Collins knew, her daughter's body was being prepared for an investigation. The young woman who loved to curl up with her mother and watch "Grey's Anatomy" would never do so again.
"I was enraged," said Collins during a recent interview in her suburban home. "I couldn't cope. They had no viewing morgue, wouldn't take me to my daughter. I was acting a fool. I just had to leave."
So Collins left. She walked aimlessly around the hospital campus in the night. Everything was blurry, disjointed, horrific. And then an old acquaintance parked her vehicle beside Collins, got out and hugged her firmly.
The embrace gave Collins clarity but not comfort.
"She was sorry for what happened to my daughter," Collins said. "She said she would pray for me."
Pain precedes healing
Collins, a single parent, is adamant young people should learn from her daughter's premature death. Five weeks after that evening - and the subsequent night when she could not sleep, feeling that her daughter was surely home, somewhere - Collins' living room is still bedecked with pastel sympathy cards, sent from admirers and total strangers alike.
On a mantel sits a paper fashion bag Hannon made in art class. Two red pumps encircle the name of a fictitious boutique called "Deposito De Pattino."
A creative, entrepreneurial type, she had dreamed of owning a boutique one day.
"(Hannon) had such big dreams of going to college," said her mother. "She didn't have her eyes on a particular college, because she was still halfway a little girl and halfway a woman. She would still hang around my neck - 'Mama, I'm home!'"
She paused, eyeing the mantel.
"Of course, over time, I know I'll be able to put all the cards away," Collins said. "But not now."
If not for the accident, Hannon would be a few weeks into her junior year at Central Gwinnett High School.
To honor Hannon, the Central Gwinnett football team had its field scribed with her initials for the season opener versus Dacula. She had joined the team as a student trainer last spring, believing the role would exhibit her knack for leadership to college administrators.
"It's never easy to go through these waters, whether you're young or old," said football coach Dennis Roland. "What you hope happens is we honor (Hannon's) memory and carry on. We play for her family."
Collins dismisses the circumstances of her daughter's death as the fatal combination of teenagers, a gun and curiosity over caution. "They were all friends - it was just a stupid, tragic thing that happened," she said.
But Gwinnett police have taken a more consequential stance.
In the days following the shooting, police charged a 16-year-old boy who accidentally discharged the weapon with involuntary manslaughter. He remains at the Gwinnett Regional Youth Detention Center, police said this week.
Collins said the boy was freshly uprooted from New Jersey, merely "trying to fit in with the in-crowd," she said. The shooting occurred in an adjacent neighborhood, a popular hangout, where kids walking back and forth have worn trails behind Collins' home.
Weeks after Hannon's death, police went after the man they believe supplied the gun to the teens.
A warrant was issued Aug. 23 for Carl Royal Robinson, 20, of Lawrenceville. Police say he "knowingly and recklessly" furnished the .357 magnum to minors while on probation for previous violent crimes.
Robinson remains at large.
In just 17 years, Hannon had built a solid constituency of admirers, young and old.
Hannon was particularly fond of the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club. A five-year member, she ingrained herself in leadership programs and worked this summer as a Junior Staff member, her first part-time job.
Before her death, Hannon was one of two finalists for the club's Youth of the Year Award. Her best friend, Jennifer Magwood, is the sole candidate now.
"We ourselves can't comprehend why this senseless loss of life occurred," wrote club program director Talia Torres in a letter to the Post. "(Hannon) was the sweetest and most conscientious young lady. Kids as young as (age) six looked up to her."
Rory Johnson, the club's executive director, said Hannon's void is quite literally felt by his staff. The confident, ambitious, empowering youth had her sights set on attending the Keystone Leadership Group Conference in California this year, Johnson said.
"(Hannon) was very spiritual, a leader, somebody who really took things to heart," said Johnson. "The community lost a good one."
A lesson in loss
Collins still considers herself the one-in-a-million mother who loves rap music.
Rap was a conduit between Collins and her daughter's growing troupe of friends. Often, Hannon would invite over neighborhood chums to listen to hip-hop radio in the living room, joining her mother in the "Walk It Out" and "Two Step," bombastic dance moves popularized by Atlanta rapper T.I.
"I was a mom when I needed to be," Collins said with a laugh, "but I could also have fun."
Collins is setting goals that might lead her back to normalcy, or at least to some semblance of her life before Aug. 3. She hopes to return to work at Thermo Fisher Scientific by early October. Once working, she'll focus on her other daughter, Hannon's younger sister, who was in the room when the gun went off.
Collins repeatedly asserts that her daughter's death is a lesson, albeit in template form. She asked that copies of this article be distributed in Gwinnett high schools. She insists the kids need to know. One can envision her speaking to teenagers at school assemblies, brandishing a smiling photo of her daughter, putting the pain to use.
"Playing with a gun ended her life when it didn't have to end," Collins said. "If a person shows you a gun, don't consider them a friend.
"This," and she motions to the sympathy cards, "is what happens."