MADISON, Ala. – The City of Madison endured its first murder of 2016 on the day after Christmas.
Maureen Mack-West passed the Sonic in front of James Clemens High School on her way home from errands the day after Christmas. It was soaked in police lights and surrounded by crime tape.
She tried to text her 18-year-old son Jason. He didn't answer.
"And I got home, and I said, you know, there's a lot of police tape. I have a gut feeling. I'm walking over there. I know it's dumb, and I don't know why I'm walking. But I'm just going to walk over there," said Mack-West.
Police sat her down at a picnic table and told her that her son had been shot.
She remember the conversation vividly, "I sat there for a few minutes. 'Do you want a drink? Do you want coffee? Do you want anything?' No, I just need to sit here, because I cannot bear yet to go home and tell my husband and my other three children that their son and brother is dead."
18-year-old Jason West had already been taken to Huntsville Hospital.
"He died without anyone there from his family, without anyone who loved him there. So I needed to go to the hospital, and I needed to see him. And I needed to kiss him," said Mack-West.
She found his body wrecked by the trauma, so unlike how she remembers him.
"He was an amazing kid. I mean, he had a wit and a humor," she said, "And he had a tendency to try to get himself in trouble, and that will be obvious from the criminal complaint that's been released and the information that had been released out there."
The criminal complaint filed against Jason's accused killers says West agreed to buy 89 Xanax from them for $300, but it also says that it was always a setup.
Mack-West does add, "I would like people to know, although it will come out eventually, that there were no narcotics found in his room or in the house."
Even still, just that little piece of Jason's life emboldens the unsympathetic.
"My son is a victim, and he's already been castigated. And I've been called the worst mother on Earth. It is not that I didn't know some of the types of behaviors my son was interested in engaging in. When they reach 18, the parents' influence becomes a little bit smaller," she said.
Being a parent means being the best influence you can. It's not always enough, but it's not always ignored.
Mack-West learned a few things about her son after his passing, "What I found out after he died is that he went into his sister's room and kissed both of them goodnight every single night when he was on his way to take a shower. And I didn't know that. I would hear him on his phone at night and I didn't know that there were all these beautiful young ladies that were just friends that he helped. I got these Instagram messages. One was saying, 'I was so anxious working at Steak Out. I have an anxiety disorder, and he always made me feel better. He was always comforting.' Another said, 'My boyfriend committed suicide recently. Jason FaceTimes me every single night to make sure I'm OK.'"
So follow the crime scene tape, from the Sonic where they gunned down the guy with the list of nighttime reassurances to your own home.
"I believe that upper-middle class neighborhoods, subdivisions, communities, live in this veil of fake security that because they're monied and have manicured sidewalks and beautiful lawns and beautiful homes, that everything inside is OK," Mack-West said, "And I think that we have as an American society in the upper-middle class and the rich kids, I think we have a drug problem. I think it doesn't start and stop with a shooting at Sonic. I think this is an opportunity for a lot of school administrators and parents to take a closer look at their children and what they're doing and what's missing out of the pill bottle. What's missing out of the medicine cabinet? Where are they going? What are they doing?"
So now as she assembled the memories of her son, photographs, Christmas cards he wrote when he was younger, she wanted to share, "We haven't lived here that long, and I don't want him to disappear. I thought it would be nice to share a little bit of where he was going. I don't want everyone to focus on a drug case. It is what it is, but he was more than that."
Among other things, he was loved.
"I just want people to know that he had a good heart, and he was a good person. And I think he had a lot of potential. And everything, everything he was going to do has been robbed. Everything has been taken away. Apparently, two people went to rob him, and they took absolutely everything away from him. And they took a huge chunk away from us," she said.
Dacedric Ward and Trevor Cantrell are charged with capital murder. If convicted, they face either life without parole or the death penalty.
Maureen Mack-West said she trusts a jury to decide on which one is appropriate as she's too close to it to say which is the right choice.