She disappears into a back room to find her hat and gloves. Nearly 13 years have passed since someone killed Priscilla Lollar’s oldest child, and in that time, she says, she has never visited his grave.
She has thought about what that moment would be like, and deep down she knows it is something she needs to do. But she’s afraid that pain would soon follow, and so instead, Priscilla has chosen for years to feel nothing.
Early on Jan. 31, 2000, Richard Lollar and a childhood friend, Jacinth Baker, were stabbed to death in Atlanta. This much is fact. What’s unknown is who killed them, although the Lollar family still believes Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who’s expected to end his Hall of Fame career at the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, was involved.
Lewis will be celebrated at this year’s game for a remarkable 17-year career that has made him one of pro football’s most recognizable stars. Almost a footnote now is that knife attack 13 years ago, when a 24-year-old Lewis was among those attending that year’s Super Bowl festivities in Atlanta. He was a rising star, his fourth NFL season recently completed, when his path crossed with Lollar, 24, and Baker, 21, at a nightclub in the hours after the St. Louis Rams won the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
By the next morning, two young men lay dead; three others, including Lewis, would be charged with murdering them. Traces of Baker’s blood were discovered inside Lewis’s stretch limousine, and the white suit he had been wearing that night was never found.
“I’m not trying to end my career like this,” Lewis said that night, according to one witness’s testimony.
Four months after the killings, murder charges against Lewis were dropped; he pleaded guilty to a much lesser charge, one count of misdemeanor obstruction of justice, and his two acquaintances were later acquitted. Still, Lewis paid millions in 2004 to settle civil suits filed by Lollar’s fiancee and Baker’s grandmother.
Nearly 13 years after the incident, Lewis’s legacy centers on his outstanding career, his message of faith and giving, and the charisma that will no doubt be on display throughout next week before the Super Bowl.
Richard Lollar’s family in Akron, meanwhile, associates Lewis’s name with something far different, and they continue to struggle — with money and Priscilla’s mother’s illness and the impossibility, even so many years later, to find closure to a situation that has offered none. Some relatives have faced Richard’s death head-on, but his mother has dealt with it by ignoring the ordeal’s most elemental fact: that her son is dead.
Priscilla’s son had moved to Atlanta shortly before his death, and for years, that’s what she told herself: that he was just out of town. The phone might ring any time with his voice on the other end, or he might walk one day through the front door. But dead? No, she wouldn’t consider it. Priscilla says she didn’t even attend her son’s funeral.
“I made myself numb to everything,” she says.
This Wednesday afternoon, though, is different. A reporter has asked her to visit the grave. She says she needed a reason to go, and this is as good a reason as any.
“If it was my son, I would’ve been to the grave,” says Priscilla’s sister Faye, who attended the funeral but hasn’t returned to the cemetery since. “Some people do things differently, but I know it wouldn’t have taken me 13 years.”
A cold wind blows through this neighborhood west of downtown Akron, snowflakes floating to the cold-hardened ground. Priscilla, 56, emerges wearing a sequined hat, pulled low to her eyes, and striped gloves. She asks Faye, seated now at the kitchen table, where to go, but Faye can’t remember the cemetery’s name. Greenlawn, she thinks, but that isn’t correct. All Faye knows is that a tall tree grows near the grave on top of the hill.
“Let’s go,” Priscilla says, and then she leans toward the stove’s blue and orange flame, lighting a half-smoked cigarette.
Demons and temptations
He called her almost every day, Priscilla says. Richard and Baker, friends since high school, moved to Atlanta in search of change. Richard never forgot to check in with his mother.
Some mothers’ stories involve redemption, an unblemished support system and a child’s unquestioned path. Others include drugs, battles with addiction and confrontations settled with knives.
Priscilla speaks openly about her struggles with drugs and the law, and she wanted a better life for her nine children. Addiction sunk its teeth in years ago, and days can still sometimes offer temptations. She was in and out of jail throughout Richard’s childhood, so Priscilla’s mother, Joyce, raised him and several others in the 672-square-foot home she still lives in.
“The best place for Richard,” says Faye, who doesn’t speak with Priscilla about her past problems but believes she has put them aside.