topics In The News Houston grandmother left to care for twins who lost their mother to gun violence: ‘I’m starting over’

Houston grandmother left to care for twins who lost their mother to gun violence: ‘I’m starting over’

This article was originally published by the Houston Chronicle on September 26, 2022.

In memories tucked away on a phone, Chant’e Mahogany Wilson appears full of life: Smiling in selfies, holding her twin daughters on Mother’s Day and telling them: “Give me a kiss. I love you.”

“That’s Tay Tay, right here,” Paige Reed said as her grandmother scrolled through photos and videos on a recent Monday at home in southeast Houston. The 2-year-old girl repeated her mother’s nickname: “I wanna go to Tay Tay house. I wanna go to Tay Tay house.”

Paige curled up in her grandmother’s lap and nestled her head on her chest. She stared at the wall and scrunched up her face, on the verge of tears.

“It’s going to be OK,” said Loutrina Reed, trying to redirect her granddaughter. “We’re going to eat some popcorn in a minute, OK?”

In moments like these, as she shoulders the heavy burden of raising two more children in a already stress-filled life, Reed doesn’t know what to say to her 2-year-old twin granddaughters. How can she tell Paige and Mariah the truth about what happened to their mother?

The 20-year-old was shot to death last month in south Houston in an ambush-style attack allegedly committed by a 26-year-old woman who is being held in jail on $1.25 million bond, according to court records. The shooting may have stemmed from an ongoing dispute related to a man both women had dated, Reed said.

This is a small part of the aftermath of gun violence that often goes overlooked and uncounted: the immediate trauma, the long-term emotional toll and the financial burdens. Scores of people around Houston have had their lives forever changed by gun violence, and, while some become advocates or activists, countless others are just fighting to get through it.

“I’m starting over,” said Reed, who has seven children of her own ranging from ages 9 to 22. “I turned 40 this year and then I gained two children… It’s a lot.”

Reed is stepping in to raise the twin girls for now while her son, the father of the twins, is dealing with mental health issues, she said. Another relative is caring for Wilson’s third child, who has a different father.

“I’m not trying to take that away from him,” she said about parenting. “I’m trying to help him to get himself together to be a good dad to these girls.”

Reed had been helping with the girls since Wilson came to live with her shortly after giving birth to the twins.

The young woman was shy at first, Reed said, but her fun and big personality soon blossomed. She sang along to every word of The Temptations movie, danced in front of the TV and entertained herself during the early days of the pandemic with Tik Tok and workout videos.

Most recently, Reed said, the twin girls were living with their grandmother after Wilson moved out and got involved in a fight with a woman that became increasingly violent and eventually deadly.

The alleged killer had threatened and shot at Wilson before her death, according to Reed, though Wilson never reported it to the police.

Reed had begged Wilson to stop talking to the man and remove herself from the violence. She kept her grandchildren away from the fighting, worried they’d be caught in the crossfire, but encouraged Wilson to come visit the girls anytime.

Still, the pair argued about the situation like mother and daughter. In one of their last conversations, Wilson asked Reed: “Do you not trust me with my own children?”

Reed told her that was not the case. But she saw in Wilson a young woman who was making decisions with consequences and still trying to figure out life.

“Just trust and know that when you ready, you can get your babies,” Reed recalled telling Wilson.

Instead, one night in early August, Wilson was walking back from the corner store with her boyfriend when a woman jumped out from behind parked cars and began shooting her in an ambush-style attack.

Authorities have charged Tranisha Miller with murder and aggravated assault in connection with the incident on the 3700 block of Faulkner Street in South Side.

Miller fired one round from a handgun at the boyfriend, according to court documents, and then shot Wilson, who fell to the ground. Detectives learned that Miller stood over Wilson and fired several more rounds into the her back.

She was pronounced dead at Ben Taub Hospital.

Children who lose a caregiver at a young age often experience behavioral regression, including problems sleeping, eating or using the bathroom, said Julie Kaplow, a licensed clinical psychologist and executive director at the Trauma and Grief Center at the Hackett Center for Mental Health.

Additionally, they may be more clingy toward the surviving caregiver or seek out the person who died, she said.

“Children that age really don’t understand the permanence of that loss so they do a lot of looking for the person who died,” she said.

Kids who experience a traumatic loss often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in addition to grief, Kaplow said, noting that it’s important to address the trauma so that the grieving process can begin.

Families can seek support from resources around Houston, including Bo’s Place, a non-profit that offers free grief support services for children, families and adults.

Kaplow said caregivers should continue to talk about the person who died and allow young kids to guide the conversation when they become curious and start asking questions. Adults should keep the communication open but avoid imposing additional information, she said.

Reed is now grappling with many of those questions herself.

She does not know what to say when the girls bring up their mother. The twins don’t understand why Wilson never calls them on FaceTime anymore.

The grandmother has noticed that they seem to have a sadness and sense of missing their mother, although they don’t fully understand or know how to express their feelings.

“They’re beginning to ask about her more and more every day because they haven’t seen her,” she said.

Wilson died roughly two weeks before her 21st birthday. She was hyped to celebrate with big balloons and a fancy restaurant. Instead, her daughters sang happy birthday over cupcakes without their mom.

Reed knows the girls’ memories of their mother will slip away with time.

“I’m just trying to figure out how to continue to keep her name alive and celebrate it,” she said. “I don’t want them to think I’m their mom.”

Meanwhile, the costs from raising two young children are stacking up: Pull-Ups in two sizes, shoes and clothes for the growing girls, and kid-appropriate snacks and meals.

Reed was recently hired as a cafeteria worker at Alvin ISD, but took unpaid leave to care for the twins. Now, she is trying to arrange childcare and benefits for the girls so she can get back to work. Reed has created a GoFundMe to help shoulder the financial burden.

Despite the challenges, Reed said she is grateful that she was in a position to be able to support the twins after their mother’s death.

“She can rest knowing they’re going to be fine,” Reed said. “I’ve always had her back when it came to these kids.”

The full article is available online here.