The operator from a S.C. prison says, “You have 15 seconds left on this call.”
“Let me call you right back,” the woman tells me.
She’s in prison for attempted armed robbery – since 2013.
My reason for speaking with her – her 19-year-old son was shot dead the month before in Lancaster.
The last time she saw him – 2014.
And she isn’t allowed to go to his funeral.
I sit there and wonder how we got here, wonder why this happened.
I remember two days before, sitting down with another mother whose 17-year-old son was fatally shot.
I think about my grandparents who lost their son – my uncle – when he was just 19 years old. He was stabbed in the back with a knife at a football game.
I wonder – why so young?
Is it jealousy over a girl? Is it anger over who won a game? Is it because a bully’s feeling threatened?
What during teenage years could be horrible enough to kill somebody? Somebody with a whole life ahead of them.
My off-the-record conversations later tell me the truth, and it wasn’t just a silly game.
My goal with every interview I do on the streets and with families after a murder is to find answers, regardless of how bad I annoy the cops and friends and eye-witnesses. I do it because it’s a public safety issue. I do it to inform the public about what’s really going on.
The phone is on speaker. The boy’s grandmother and aunt, who both took care of him after his mother went to jail, sit on the sofa beside me.
The mother mentions her nine children.
But this one – he’s always stood out, she says.
I hold back my tears and finish my last questions: What kind of kid was he? What was he involved in at school? What type of father was he to his little girl?
I let her pause to hold tears back, too, and finish her answers.
And I leave the home with just a little bit of peace, hoping I gave the family some closure.
But I know the hurt will always be there.
Follow reporter Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter @HannahLStrong