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(DALLAS NEWS) – Trips to Dallas were once a joyous reunion for the Jean family. It meant spending time with their son, Botham Jean.
Allison and Bertrum Jean now travel here from their home country of St. Lucia out of duty. They came to ensure justice for their son, who was killed in his own apartment.
Returning to Dallas this week, “just opened the wound even deeper” than when they flew in after Jean was killed Sept. 6. Dallas police officer Amber Guyger had just left work but was in uniform when, she said, she mistook his apartment in the Cedars for her own and thought he was a burglar.
“I’m afraid Dallas is no longer a pleasure,” Allison Jean told The Dallas Morning News. “I have to do it. I will do it. It is not a place that I wanted to be.”
After the searing shock of grief, the couple find themselves going through the motions of life: doing what must be done and finding no joy in it. They must figure out how to cope without their 26-year-old son, who planned to return to their island in the Caribbean one day and run for prime minister.
After meeting Tuesday with Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, the couple drove through downtown Dallas, their path dotted with painful landmarks.
They drove past Lamar Street — where their son lived. A quick turn south would have taken them to the apartment where Guyger shot him as he watched football in the dark.
They have no desire to return to the South Side Flats, where their son lived on the fourth floor, directly above Guyger’s home. His apartment still holds his belongings, most of which the family will donate. Their son, an accountant who wanted to right wrongs and help others, would have wanted that.
Bertrum Jean, 54, hasn’t returned to work managing the water and sewer department.
“I tried it, and it was too emotional for me,” Bertrum Jean said. “Unable to concentrate.”
Maybe next week, he said. “God willing.”
“I am not able to enjoy a meal since it happened. I have no appetite because my son was taken away in such a way,” Bertum Jean said. “I eat just because I have to eat. But I don’t enjoy a meal anymore, knowing that he could not enjoy what I am enjoying.”
They have tried to make life as normal as possible for their youngest child, 17-year-old Brandt.
He went back to school and finds solace at the gym. He talks to a counselor from Dallas every day by phone. They also talk as a family. That helps all of them.
“We’ve been rallied around by our friends and relatives and church members,” Bertrum Jean said. “That has been helping us through this difficult period.”
Brandt planned to come to the United States for college next year. Possibly in New York where the Jeans’ daughter lives with her husband and three sons. Now the family isn’t so sure. And others in St. Lucia are second guessing coming here, said Allison Jean, 51.
Fear outweighs the desire for better educational opportunities.
The Jeans also worry about their grandsons growing up in the United States. They’re 3, 10 and 15. Allison Jean was visiting them when Botham Jean was killed. Her husband was at their home in St. Lucia.
“Persons are scared about sending their kids to the United States when they think of situations like Botham,” said Allison Jean, a former government official in St. Lucia. “Botham tried his best to do everything right. He was not walking or running or driving. He was in his own apartment. Alone. And he gets killed there. I think it’s a lesson for everyone.”
Guyger was arrested on a manslaughter charge three days after she killed Botham Jean. Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall fired Guyger 15 days after that. Jean’s parents are pushing for Guyger to be charged with murder, which Dallas criminal attorneys say is more appropriate because she intended to shoot Jean. In Texas, manslaughter is a reckless act.
The Jeans said they were comforted and satisfied after meeting with Johnson this week. But neither they nor the district attorney would say whether that meant prosecutors would pursue a murder charge.
Guyger’s attorney, Robert Rogers, has said Guyger is “completely devastated by what happened” and described the shooting as “a tragic mistake.”
Guyger said the door to Jean’s apartment was unlocked and ajar, but the Jeans say their son would have shut and locked it. The Jeans also question Guyger’s account and have doubts that she mistakenly went to the wrong apartment.
Remember Botham Jean
Six weeks have passed since Guyger killed Jean. His parents know people are moving on. They worry Dallas, St. Lucia and the world will forget their son and what he stood for and the man he wanted to become.
In Dallas, he had handed out water to those protesting President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. He spoke to his parents about his support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling to protest police officers shooting unarmed black men.
Vigils honored Jean across the United States, in Canada and the Caribbean islands. In Dallas, people protested regularly the first few weeks after his death.
People around the world wear T-shirts bearing his name and face, especially here and in St. Lucia. Bertrum Jean wore a black shirt that said “Botham’s Army” while speaking with The News. Allison Jean wore one with a picture of her son.
Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter’s House of Dallas and his wife, Serita, are honoring Allison Jean while she’s in Dallas with a Lady of Grace Award. The award is given to women who show grace and faith “while inspiring others that love is the greatest weapon of all,” says a letter from Potter’s House telling Allison Jean about the award. Potter’s House paid for their travel and hotel.
On Sunday, members at Dallas West Church of Christ, where Botham Jean worshipped, will hold Red Out Sunday. The congregation will wear red ties, scarves and accessories in honor of Jean and his favorite color. Other congregations in St. Lucia, Dallas and likely elsewhere will join in. There’s a push to take selfies and post them on social media with #JusticeForBotham.
But his parents want a permanent reminder of their son. They will push for changes that could have prevented not just Jean’s death but the killings of others by police officers. The Jeans plan to start a foundation in his name to push for changes in laws and policies — and to help others who have been devastated by violence. The details are still being worked out.
The culture of violence and training in police departments must change, they said. The family plans to sue the city.
“Something must be done,” Bertrum Jean said. “We cannot afford to just take lives that way.”