LAWRENCE, Ind. — It’s been several months since an overnight shooting at a gas station in Lawrence left a clerk seriously injured and charges have been filed against the accused shooter, a 16-year-old boy, who is in custody.
It happened at Thorntons gas station in the 7000 block of Pendleton Pike on Oct. 17, 2021. The 911 call, according to police, came in around 5:37 a.m. from a customer who arrived to get coffee and found the victim, who had been shot in the head.
Lawrence police said it appeared the clerk, who family members identified as 23-year-old Tavaris “TJ” Hall Jr., didn’t have any time to react when the suspect walked in and began shooting.
“It should have never happened,” said Brandy Hall, TJ’s mother, who is still working to make sense of everything that happened.
After the shooting, police and family shared pleas to the community to come forward with any information that might help investigators, meanwhile Thornton’s offered a $25,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for the crime.
For nearly two weeks after, TJ remained in a coma. He was able to go home to his family almost two months after he was injured. His goal was to be home for Christmas, something that he was able to do.
“He’s a soldier, he’s a fighter,” said Brandy.
Family members said TJ wasn’t supposed to be working the night of the shooting, but instead, picked up a shift to help at the gas station. He had become a first-time father only about a week and a half before this happened, welcoming a baby boy into the world with Eboni Williams.
“That night, he kissed him and told him he was going to see him again, and it’s like two months down the road,” said Williams. “I cried because it’s like, I waited for that moment for you to come home and be back with us.”
It’s TJ’s son who has been an integral part in helping him find the strength to continue pushing forward since his life changed on that October morning, family said.
“It’s not even been a year yet and he’s already learning to walk without the cane and getting his strength back on both sides,” said Williams. “It’s beautiful because you still have that bond with your son, you still get to wake up every morning and see him, talk to him, and come home to him.”
“His progress is just amazing,” said Brandy. “What I’ve witnessed with him, the doctors didn’t expect it, but he’s showed everybody, look, I’m not about to lay in this bed. I’m getting up. I’m going to see my son.”
Their biggest question surrounding what happened still remains, ‘why?’
“I don’t understand why and I think that’s the only question that we all have is, why? Why did you target my baby that night? What possessed you to be out at 5:30 in the morning,” said Brandy.
Eboni said, “Having the answer of who did it is refreshing and relieving of course, but it’s having the answer of, what was the point of it?”
“Knowing that he got caught for what he did is great, it’s amazing, it makes me feel better, but it doesn’t escape the fact that there’s still trauma, there’s still PTSD, there’s still questioning and anxiety, there’s still these major deep-down things that still need to be answered,” she added.
Family said, while they may not have every answer right now, they’re thankful to police, who identified the suspect and presented the case to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO), who filed charges against the 16-year-old boy.
According to the MCPO, the teen suspect was already in custody, charged in connection to a separate, unrelated case, when the prosecutor’s office filed these charges.
“Our detectives work on a case like this, especially one like this that was seemingly rather senseless and worked nonstop and incessantly,” said Lawrence police chief, Gary Woodruff. “We’re grateful for the tips we received in this case. At the end of the day, it was forensic evidence that really gave us the breakthrough on this one, but it was all the pieces of the puzzle really coming into place to give us a picture of what happened.”
“Sometimes that takes time, especially to develop that evidence along with the tips that we received, and in this case, we had several of each and we were able to put enough together to present a compelling case that resulted in charges being filed,” said Woodruff.
Because the case involves a juvenile and charges have been filed, Lawrence police said they’re limited in what they’re able to share. Still, they’re glad they’ve been able to provide some answers for TJ’s family and the community.
“To be able to get this individual identified, charged and into the court process, that’s a plus for everybody, of course the only acceptable resolution is for this is to not happen in the first place,” said Woodruff. “We also want to continue public safety. Most of the time when a violent crime like this occurs, it’s not the first time and it likely won’t be the last when an offender commits this type of crime, so we would like to protect the community as much as they can.”
“We all reach a certain age of accountability and I know certainly for me, at 16 years old, I was making my own choices and I knew the difference between right and wrong and what one should or should not do and that juveniles — teenage offenders are willing to pick up a firearm and commission a violent crime, that’s not good and we hope that there’s a turn at some point,” said Woodruff.
The prosecutor’s office has not yet shared what charges the teen is facing. TJ’s family hopes the next step is justice. While they are proud of the strides he has made in his recovery, they know TJ’s road to recovery is nowhere near over.
“We’re all glad that an arrest was made and what we really want to see is justice. We want to see him held accountable,” said Brandy. “It’s really sad as a parent to know what age he is, but to see what my son went through, I don’t care.”
TJ was hospitalized Sunday night for complications related to his injuries, but continues to keep his spirits high despite everything he’s faced.
“It gets hard because it’s like when he does push forward, he’s doing his therapy weeks and weeks at a time and then all of a sudden, there’s that setback. It kind of hits harder because it’s like, we don’t want to go backwards to where we were, where he was in the hospital for months,” said Eboni.
Brandy said she hopes people will hear TJ’s story and push for positive change so nobody has to face what their family has been tasked with enduring.
“Put the guns down. It’s time for us to raise our youth to where they don’t have to resort to guns,” said Brandy. “It’s time to stop. It’s getting to the point where it’s overrated and it’s time to put the guns down.”
Family said TJ will continue to fight, with a positive attitude, and prove that while this shooting may have left him injured, it didn’t take anything from him.
“You didn’t take anything from him, he gained everything. You really just ended your life,” said Brandy.
Due to the age of the suspect, his identity has not been released by authorities.
FOX59 also reached out to Thorntons, but citing company policy, a spokesperson said they are unable to comment on an active police investigation.