When 26-year-old Christopher Guilbeau Jr. was shot on Elysian Fields Avenue in 2007, he survived but was blinded. When he suddenly died from his injuries two years later, it was his mother's life that plunged into darkness.
"The people who are doing the murdering are not just hurting the mothers and the fathers of the child they are hurting," Linn James said. "They are hurting generations of people. They are hurting those young men's children and cousins and nephews and grandparents. You are hurting a whole world of people who you will never know — because of something senseless."
Guilbeau grew up loving music and played the trombone at Fortier High School in the late 1990s. After high school, he became a barber and had a daughter.
James was at the apartment building she managed early on an October morning in 2007 when she got a phone call informing her Guilbeau had been shot. In disbelief, she immediately hung up the phone, then started to scream and then to pray.
Guilbeau was shot through his hand and jaw, but fragments of the bullet entered his brain. He lost one eye and became blind in the other. It was the beginning of a new life.
"He was extraordinarily brave," James said. "He was like a new person on the outside, but you knew he was a wounded soul on the inside. [He acted] as if nothing had happened. I think he was that way to protect me, his sister and his daughter."
His family had to bathe him and teach him how to eat. Guilbeau had almost no sense of taste or smell, but the one dish he said he could still taste was "bananas friddle," pancakes with bananas, so his mother cooked it whenever he asked for it. She had to take a leave of absence from work and eventually had to resign.
After three months, Guilbeau enrolled in a yearlong program in Ruston to teach him to live without the sense of sight. James would talk to her son on the phone nearly every night, sometimes for 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, but it was never a short conversation. Once a month, he would come home for the weekend. During Mardi Gras, Guilbeau came home and told his mother the Lord was soon to take him.
"The Lord didn't take me this far to take you from me," James remembers replying.
In March 2009, Guilbeau suddenly died of complications related to his brain injury.
After her son's death, James descended into a downward spiral, unable to sleep, losing weight and planning suicide. She had to quit her job and ultimately admitted herself to a hospital for treatment.
Now, James is moving forward by helping others. She recently told a mother in St. Rose who had just lost her toddler about the group, and plans to continue recruiting others.
"It helps me with my healing process and shows me that I am stronger than I think I am," James said. "I don't look like what I have been through."