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Friday, May 2, 2014

A mother’s quest to honor son’s memory

Two years after her son, TJ Floyd was brutally stabbed to death Debbie Floyd feels like she is finally turning a corner. “The Devil thought he was going to take me down because I had reached hundreds but now I am going after thousands,” Floyd said adding she recently realized her new mission, one she could carry forward to honor her murdered son’s memory. To understand Floyd’s future mission you need to understand the events that devastated her past. “You would have thought that when I walked out of the court room the other day I would have been relieved. I wasn’t I went into this deep dark hole…I wasn’t prepared for that,” she said. Floyd’s son was 19 when he was stabbed to death on Jan. 21, 2012. That day changed Floyd’s life forever. On April 4, Floyd and her family were in court as her son’s killer Travon Walthour, accepted a plea agreement on a manslaughter charge in Liberty County Superior Court. Walthour will have to spend at least 15 years in prison before he would be eligible for parole and be on probation for two years afterwards if released. But for a mom still grieving the loss of her youngest son the ordeal was far from over. After all it wasn’t supposed to be this way, TJ was her miracle baby. A baby somehow conceived and carried to term against medical odds as she was told by several doctors. She was treating a health condition and a baby wasn’t supposed to be part of the plan. But TJ was born and was healthy. Floyd addressed Liberty County Superior Court Judge Robert Russell before Walthour was sentenced saying her son “Lived life to the fullest, was the kindest soul I ever met, was always willing to help others, wore a big smile most of the time and his presence made people happy.” LOOKING BACK Floyd said her son was the Salutatorian for the 2010 graduating class at LifeSpring Christian Academy, the same school she spent 13 years as an educator. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing, boating, golfing, riding his ATV, exploring the great outdoors and nailing a triple flip on his trampoline. Then suddenly he was gone. Floyd said the first few weeks after his death are still a blur. “This little house had hundreds of people,” she said. “I don’t even remember them but hundreds of people were in and out…they said I did great for the most part until the Valium ran out and I’d start screaming and they would pop another one in me.” Floyd said about 900 people came to the funeral home during her son’s service. Without placing blame she tried to understand what led to his demise. In 2012 Debbie Floyd said she, her husband Terry and son TJ lived in the Lake George area of Midway. It was a house she described as her dream home. Her son’s long-time girlfriend also lived in the house although they didn’t share the same room. The two had been together since TJ was 14. He attended LifeSpring while she attended Liberty County High School. After school they would take off on his ATV into the woods. She was a photographer and took hundreds of pictures of Floyd’s outdoor adventures. It was a passion they shared. Shortly before his death a series of misfortunes caused a rift in the Floyd household. Floyd said she separated from her husband Terry and moved back to the Port Wentworth home that TJ and the family lived in until he finished the fourth grade. Shortly afterwards TJ and his girlfriend broke up and she moved out of the Midway house TJ still shared with his dad. “They had all the same friends and you know how that is when there is a breakup one of the two gets isolated from the group,” Floyd said. “He ended up with a whole different group of friends and I didn’t know them but I knew they were smoking pot.” Unfortunately TJ started smoking pot as well. It wasn’t something mom was happy about but he was an adult and had to make his own mistakes to learn from. She did offer advice and said she spoke often to her son to see if maybe he would change his ways. “I said, ‘TJ do you believe that God would have done all of those miracles to get you here to be where you are right now,’” she said sharing one of the last conversations she had with her son. “’And he said no;”…”He said, ‘Mom would you get the stuff up for me to go ahead and get in to Savannah Tech….I said fantastic.’” TJ wanted to be a mechanical engineer and after talking with mom decided it was time to move forward with his school plans. “When he died I had the application up on my computer…he was really excited about going to Savannah Tech,” she said. Floyd recalls she was at her friend’s house celebrating a birthday on that fateful day in January. “I had turned my phone off, and when I turned it on it was blowing up,” Floyd said recalling the day that shattered her world. Knowing the news was going to be bad she remembers handing the phone to her friend while she went into the bathroom and became violently ill. “The night that TJ was murdered Terry got the phone call that TJ had been beat up,” she said. “He rushed down there where they told him he was. And when he got there he said there was like 100 people and police everywhere. He went running up there and he saw TJ and he tried to get to him.” Floyd said her husband was nearly arrested for trying to cross into the crime scene. He was physically removed from the area by police. “They apologized later but they couldn’t have him contaminate the crime scene….I think he just thought if he could get over there, TJ wouldn’t be dead,” she said crying. Floyd said she fell apart. “We were left out there with no resources,” she said. “When we called to try and get help, because I can tell you we needed help, there wasn’t any. And when I called my insurance company they said, ‘We don’t cover mental health.’ I said we are not mentally ill but our son has been murdered and we need help.” Up until a week ago Floyd said she wasn’t able to read and retain much. “I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading,” she said. “And it made me feel stupid because I taught for 13 years.” She kept teaching until October of 2012. “I went in and I told the Pastor I’ve been trying so hard but it’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to the kids,” she said. “I was good at what I did and she begged me to stay but I said I couldn’t it was driving me crazy.” FINDING HELP About a year ago Floyd found out about a group called Compassionate Friends of Savannah. “They are a group that is for the parents, siblings, and grandparents of any child that has died no matter what age,” she said. “When I got involved with them it was scary…walking in was scary at first.” But Floyd said she was soon dumbfounded when she learned that many of the families were there due to a murdered child or family member. She kept attending the monthly meetings joined the group’s Facebook page and joined another Facebook page for the Parents of Murdered Children Inc. “I knew about the group (the Parents of Murdered Children) on Facebook and I am part of the group on Facebook but I had no idea until the last week or so that these people are a National group,” she said. “They do all kinds of things…and after looking at everything they had to offer I realized we needed a local chapter.” Floyd found the group became involved. Recently she took training to become a grief recovery specialist through the Grief Recovery Institute. “I went to school in January 2014 right after TJ’s two year ANGELversary as we call it and I became a specialist,” she said. Now she is in the process of creating a Coastal Empire Chapter of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children Inc. and Floyd said she suddenly feels awakened. “It’s like I’m on fire,” she said. “I stayed up until 2 a.m. and I read and retained everything…I mean I am soaking it up like a sponge….It’s like God has moved certain things away but said soak this in. This is what I want you to do. You always know when it’s a God thing…everything just starts flying open…everything is just falling into place.” And she wants to set the record straight. “TJ was wrong for being there…he was wrong for being there…he had no street smarts...up until the last year before his death he was with me all the time,” she said adding her son met Walthour for the first time that day. And while she admits her son was there to make what the courts said was a $600 purchase of pot, she said Walthour and co-defendants Jonathan Robertson and Damion Walthour had an alternate plan. “They were trying to rob them from the get go,” Floyd said explaining her son went with a friend to make the exchange. She said what Walthour presented to her son turned out to be a bag of oregano and parsley. “The robbery didn’t go the way it was supposed to,” she said. “They drive off but they get pissed off and they come back to get the money.” Floyd said Robertson held her son’s friend at gun point in the ditch. She said the gun was never found by police so it was never brought up in court. “Chip says there was a gun so I believe Chip,” Floyd said about her son’s friend Everett “Chip” Drewery. “I don’t think he would have any reason to lie to me about that. His wife, she was his girlfriend at the time, she ran up on the scene and she was the one who held TJ while he died. That gave me some peace…that he wasn’t in Travon’s arms when he died and that he knew he was in somebody’s arms that loved and cared for him.” She said people have accused her son of pulling a knife out on Walthour. She admits her son has always carried a buck knife since he was in fourth grade. But she said her son was small in stature compared to Walthour, a former football player at Liberty County High School. She said Walthour took the knife from her son’s pocket. “He stabbed TJ a minimum of 13 times, that is deep rooted rage,” she said. “That type of rage came from something else.” And the crime was for nothing she said. “The coroner found the money inside TJ’s shoe,” she said. “He (Travon) didn’t get anything.” Floyd said she will be attending a conference in August to learn about developing the local chapter for the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children Inc. She said she wishes she could have been provided immediate referrals to the services the organization provides. “These are the kinds of things I needed and we needed to be told about,” she said. “There was nothing for us.” She also wants to do something with the local DARE programs in TJ’s name. “You know these kids don’t think that it is dangerous to go buy pot, they think it is dangerous to go buy heroine or crack or meth or something like that,” she said adding that she once thought the same way too. “I didn’t think it was that huge of a deal although I didn’t want my kid smoking pot. And you hear people say all the time you never hear of someone getting violent over pot so you are not associating violence with marijuana. So I do want people to know that there was no marijuana and how that was set up because I don’t think kids realize how they could get set up like that. Kids don’t need to be out there trying to buy the stuff because you don’t know what you are buying and you don’t know if you are going to come out alive…these kids don’t realize that it could be their last moment.” She said she plans to attend every parole hearing to keep Walthour in jail for as long as she can. She said it is something the organization she plans to establish also does on behalf of the victims’ families. And she plans to see her new mission until completion. “I was already a Christian which was a good thing because when he died I had that foundation and everything but it put me in a whole different direction,” she said. “I had always dedicated my life to helping others that is just me I am not about self I am all about helping others. But it put me on a whole different road….I am on a mission and that mission is to do something in this community that is needed. No mom, no parent should ever feel this…there aren’t even words to describe what this feels like.”