Cindy Williams has already lived the nightmare of being unable to protect a son who found himself in mortal danger through no fault of his own.
She has fought the battle of escorting her son to school, changing schools, fighting off bullies, and battling a bureaucracy that so often fails to focus on a problem until after tragedy has struck.
And she has known the pain of losing her son. Derrick Williams was 20 years old when he died on July 20, 2006, four months after he was shot and five years after he was first targeted, his mother says, because he didn’t want to join a gang.
So her heart went out to Towanda Kellam this week. Kellum is the mother of Lance Hartgrove, a 15-year-old who was stabbed to death Tuesday behind a federal building in Dudley Square, heading home from a pickup basketball game. His mother said he has been threatened and pursued for months, and that no one did anything about it.
“These same little punks said they were going to kill my son,” Kellum told the Globe’s Brian Ballou Wednesday. “My son was 15 years old. That was my baby. My son wasn’t a robber. He wasn’t a killer. He wasn’t a drug dealer. He didn’t have a criminal record.”
Her cry from the heart struck home with the ever-growing community of mothers who have lost children to violence. Not a few of them have seen danger lurking for their children, but found themselves unable to protect them.
Kellum had an especially absurd and tragic experience. She described attack after attack and Facebook threats on her child. Lance began skipping school, because he was afraid to go. Her desperate efforts to protect him included seeking an electronic monitoring device from the Probation Department to keep track of him.
Williams had a similar experience. Her son’s problems began when he fought off a group of kids who were trying to steal his coat. From there, things never improved.
“I wanted security in the neighborhood during school and after school,” she recalled. She walked him to school, which only got him mocked by bullies. “He went to the Martin Luther King [Middle] School, and I thought that would keep him safe, but I was wrong.”
In the end her son resorted, as many do, to carrying a firearm for protection. That earned him a short jail term, and he was no safer when he came out than he had been before. He was killed, Williams said, by three men, though no one has ever been charged with his murder.
“My son was a big boy, and I think he was targeted for that,” she said. “These kids can’t even go to school. It’s hard to see your son walk out the door. I have two other kids, and I worry about letting them go out the door, because of what happened to him.”
Lance Hartgrove, the victim of the stabbing Tuesday, was one of three people injured in that attack, though the others survived. As of Friday, there had been no arrests in his slaying, though one young man near the scene was arrested shortly after the attack on unrelated charges.
Many say killings like Hartgrove’s underscore the level of violence too many of us have come to accept in some neighborhoods, and they’re right. For every homicide victim, there are dozens of others lucky enough to survive. And way too often precious little gets done about it. We have programs for kids who are already in trouble or returning to their communities after custody, but almost nothing for a mother willing to put an electronic bracelet on her child if that’s what it takes to keep him off the “wrong” street.
How, after all these years and so many lives senselessly cut short, can that be?
The grieving mothers of these children are tired of asking. I am tired of asking. The city, and its leaders, will be measured by how they answer.
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdrianWalker.