Grieving mom seeks answers in son’s shooting death

Keelon Tate was killed the day after Thanksgiving
Mariolyn Dennis is seen taking a selfie with her son Keelon Tate, who was killed in a shooting in November.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Mariolyn Dennis is seen taking a selfie with her son Keelon Tate, who was killed in a shooting in November.

Mariolyn Dennis still hears her son’s music from time to time.

Dennis, a grandmother of 14, occasionally sits and listens to music by Keelon Tate at family gatherings to help recover and move forward following his death in November.

“He’s got music we listen to, which kills us,” Dennis said. “He’s got music that’s still around.”

Tate, 23, was shot to death the day after Thanksgiving at a home in Ellenwood. The baby of the family, Tate was Dennis’ youngest child.

“I used to call him my champion. He was just a highlight,” said Dennis, who lives in Covington. “Keelon used to tell me, ‘Mom I’m your favorite.’ I ain’t gonna say he was spoiled.”

“He was definitely spoiled on both sides,” joked his 25-year-old brother, Ronnie Tate Jr., as he sat next to her.

Police have not named any suspects in Keelon Tate’s killing.

He was found shot at a home in the 5700 block of Pahaska Court around 7 p.m. Nov. 25, according to Clayton County police. Authorities said there was a bullet hole in the glass panel beside the front door, blood in the entryway and a blood trail that led to Tate’s body near the back door. There was also an open window upstairs and a screen on the ground outside, an incident report states.

Officers arrived to find two women in front of the house screaming but there were no witnesses on the scene or cameras that captured the incident, the report states.

A firearm was found next to Tate’s body; his family said he carried a gun for protection. Dennis said Tate had no enemies and was a loving and peaceful person. She added that he had been to the home a few times before the shooting to hang out.

“He wouldn’t hurt anybody, he was sweet. Love to see him come and hate to see him go with a smile,” Dennis added. “He just brought energy and I don’t know what happened. That’s why it’s so scary. He avoided disagreements and stuff of that nature.”

Tate had attended Thanksgiving dinner with his family less than 24 hours before the shooting. The next day, his family said he had just gotten off work before the incident.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anybody, but this murder has been very suspicious,” Dennis said. “And I don’t understand why.”

The Clayton County Police Department declined to comment or provide any details on the shooting, citing the open investigation.

Tate had just completed a shift as a driver for FedEx in Ellenwood, a place where he worked seven days a week to save money for a home, according to his family. His boss, Vanessa Persaud, said he was always on time, worked hard and ran one of the heaviest routes in Locust Grove with no complaints.

“He was happy, energetic and smiled all the time. We used to compliment his beautiful, big smile,” Persaud said. “I still can’t find a driver to replace him on that route. I would put him on the schedule for five or six days, but he would always tell me he will be in all seven days. I assume he was trying to better himself, so I made sure he had work every day.”

Tate was also described by his family as a social butterfly. He loved to travel, play sports and was his high school’s homecoming king, they said. He was also a member of Good Hope Baptist Church in Newton County.

Keelon Tate with his mother Mariolyn at graduation.

Credit: Mariolyn Dennis

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Credit: Mariolyn Dennis

“He was a good kid, man,” added Ronnie Tate Jr. “All of us were always real protective over him. We never let him hang out with our friends and the nature of what we did in life. We always wanted him to be different. He was our athlete, he always showed us love.”

Since his death, loved ones have memorialized Tate with shirts bearing his image and balloon releases at the FedEx facility where he worked and on the Newton High School baseball field, where he played growing up.

Kendall Dennis, 33, Kenya Jackson, 36, and Ronnie Tate Jr., 25, wear shirts dedicated to their sibling Keelon Tate.

Credit: Mariolyn Dennis

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Credit: Mariolyn Dennis

“It has been supportive to have people around you, but when you’re alone it hurts the most,” Mariolyn Dennis said. “But you know, I appreciate the love. I do appreciate the love that people have shared. That part has been beautiful.

“People think I’m strong, but I’m really mad,” she added. “I’m really mad that somebody would touch him. I’m so mad on the inside. I don’t know what to do. I’m so mad because I feel like somebody hurt him that knew him, and I don’t know why. So, I don’t know how to do this. I try to be strong because I got 14 grandkids and three (other) children. We all gotta figure out how to live.”

Dennis said her family is thinking of other ways to keep the memory of Keelon Tate alive. She hopes to create an annual baseball game in Tate’s name on his birthday.

“We’ll have to try and press on because he’s gone,” she said. “But he was full of life, so I guess we got to figure out how to continue having life. That’s all I got.”