TAMPA — Tara Jones knew it was time to go.
A single mother raising a teenage boy in Decatur, Ala., Jones was living in public housing in 2016 and worried it wasn’t the best place for her son, TeSean Blue.
"He was getting older, and I didn’t want him to become a statistic," Jones said. "I didn’t want to have to bury him. I didn’t want him to be locked up in prison."
They packed up and headed to Tampa, where they have family, and moved into a Carrollwood apartment. Jones felt safe there.
On Monday night, Jones got a call from one of her son’s friends. Blue, 18, had been shot in north Tampa. He was gone by the time Jones got to Tampa General Hospital.
Blue became Tampa’s 23rd homicide victim of 2018.
Now, his family wants him to be remembered as more than a number — as a loving young man with a passion for basketball and family, finishing up high school and trying to figure out what to do next.
"He loved his family," said his aunt Belinda Johnson of Tampa. "He always made people laugh. He was just a great kid, and he was taken."
Tampa police found Blue while responding to a call about gunshots in the area of North Brooks and East Annie streets about 8:35 p.m. He’d been shot; police haven’t said how many times or where. Detectives are developing and following up on leads, police spokesman Eddy Durkin said in an email.
Police asked anyone with information about the case to call Crime Stoppers at toll-free 1-800-873-8477.
Jones said investigators told her that her son had been shot in the back while riding a bike. She said he went to that north Tampa neighborhood often to play basketball and was planning to drop the bike off at a friend’s house, then go home.
Blue was born near Birmingham, Ala., the youngest of Jones’ three children, and spent most of his childhood in Alabama. The public housing in Decatur "wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t the best, either," Jones said.
She decided to move to Tampa to be closer to family. Her daughter Aakilah Evans, 19, lives here.
Jones and Blue moved into a tidy apartment complex off North Dale Mabry Highway. Blue started at Chamberlain High School but struggled because of an attention deficit disorder, his mother said. He transferred to another school for a short time and then enrolled in a GED program at Career Source in Tampa, Jones said.
He spent most of his free time with his friends on the basketball court. His hero was NBA star Stephen Curry, his favorite team Curry’s Golden State Warriors.
"Our challenge was to get him to think beyond basketball," Johnson said. "We told him, ‘If this is what you want to do, you’ve got to go to school and get on a team.’ "
He was a proud uncle and regularly took care of Evans’ 3-year-old daughter, Avani. His oldest sister, Diamond Blue, has a young son and lives in Atlanta.
"He was very responsible when it came to taking care of his niece," Jones said.
He made a lot of friends here. They gave him the nickname "Bama."
Meanwhile, Jones was finding success in Tampa. She got a bachelor’s degree and started on her master’s. She took a job at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, where she is training to be a fingerprint specialist. She also works as a cashier at a Lowe’s and drives for Uber.
When Jones left for work Monday, Blue had done his laundry and cleaned his room. Jones told him she loved him, and he said he loved her, too. They were going to have dinner at home with Evans that night. His sister made him a plate of hot wings and chicken gizzards, and put it in Jones’ refrigerator.
Jones was at Lowe’s when the call came about Blue. She rushed to the scene of the shooting and then to the hospital. She still hadn’t seen his body as of Friday afternoon.
Dozens of people gathered Wednesday at the scene of the shooting. Some wore shirts with Blue’s picture. Mourners used tea-light candles to spell "RIP Bama" on the concrete.
"I was just amazed at the love he was being shown," Jones said.
She said her son wasn’t confrontational, and she can’t think of anyone who would want to hurt him. She said she’s not mad at her new city, only at whoever killed her son.
Blue’s plate of food is still in her refrigerator. She can’t bring herself to throw it away.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.