On a May evening in 2011, Ann Dimes stood outside a 9th Ward home with her 26-year-old son, Danny Joseph Roberts. Roberts had a bout with a kidney stone, and Dimes, a surgical technician, wanted to check on him.
Roberts, a longshoreman since the age of 16, had just gotten a settlement check from the BP oil disaster and felt on top of the world despite his medical problems. His mother reminded him he needed to keep his car door locked, but he brushed off her concerns by telling her to give him a hug. Then his phone rang.
A voice on the other end of the line — one Dimes has never identified but will never forget overhearing — asked to borrow a shirt to wear to a club. Roberts told his mother he loved her and would see her the next day, so she turned around, closed the door and went inside.
Minutes later, Dimes' phone began ringing — Roberts was dead, shot seven times in the face just blocks from where they had last hugged goodbye.
"I am not the same person," Dimes said. "It haunts me all the time. I just can't understand the purpose of killing him that way."
Roberts graduated with honors from West Jefferson High School in 2003 and, as a member of JROTC, was offered a scholarship to the Air Force Academy. Instead, he opted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle by working as a longshoreman. Dimes and Roberts used to meet on Race and Tchoupitoulas streets several times a week at 5:30 a.m., before she went to work at the hospital and he went to work on the docks, to hug each other and talk.
"My son being my baby boy, we had a bond out of this world," Dimes said. "He was my best friend. He always showed me that he loved me, kissing me. Even as a grown man he would cuddle up and watch a movie with me."
After Hurricane Katrina, Roberts and his mother traveled through Little Rock, Ark., Dallas and Memphis, Tenn., before returning to New Orleans. When they returned, Roberts made new friends, and something was different about them, Dimes said. She began to tell him she was worried he would end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In 2013, Dimes learned about the Helping Mothers Heal group, and through it has begun to process her emotions. She said she no longer feels ashamed that her son was murdered.
"Just because he got murdered doesn't mean he was a bad person or I was a bad mother," Dimes said. "I gave him all the tools that he needed and his life was just cut short from violent crime."
Roberts' 35-year-old sister, who loved him like her own baby, recently suffered a stroke while crying over his death. Dimes bases her own healing in cherishing Roberts' memory and hopes to take a stand against future killings by teaching other mothers to do the same.
"It can happen to any mother just like this," Dimes said. "If I had known it had been my last time seeing him, smelling him, kissing him, all the normal things — I would have never shut that door."