As brothers, Frederick “Fred” and Thomas “Nolan” Babb have always been close. They’ve also had a lot in common.
Both are veterans. Nolan, the older of the two, is a Vietnam veteran. Frederick is a former Marine.
A common thread between them broke when Nolan’s 16-year-old son, Demetrius “Foot” Babb, was shot multiple times and killed outside a Greenville nightclub on June 9, 1986.
Fred couldn’t comprehend the depth of his brother’s loss until a similar incident happened to his son.
Never miss a local story.
Almost 30 years to the day his nephew died, this year, on June 5, Fred’s 24-year-old son was also gunned down.
Frederick “Jeremy” Babb was found shot multiple times on Black Road in southern Greenville County. His father said authorities told him Jeremy may have been lured to that area by someone he knew, intending to rob him.
Though he died at the scene, Jeremy called 911 on his cellphone and told the operator he’d been shot. He still had a large sum money on him when they found him, his father said.
His funeral was held June 10, two days prior to the 30th anniversary of his cousin’s funeral of June 12. The funeral home that cared for Jeremy’s body – Watkins, Garrett & Woods Mortuary – had also cared for that of Demetrius.
On a hot Friday afternoon, the two brothers sat inside Fred’s brick home, nestled alongside a cul-de-sac within the Canterbury subdivision off Augusta Road, to talk about the impact of their losses.
They also reflected on current events, including the gun control debate following the massacre in Orlando, the anniversary of the nine victims of the shooting deaths in Charleston, and gun violence overall.
“What happened in Florida, in that particular club, I picture them there helpless,” Fred said. “I thought about my son being the same way, all of a sudden being gunned down. It’s just unreal.”
But Fred doesn’t believe there is a law that can be passed that can prevent gun deaths like those of his son and the Orlando victims.
If the laws become too strict, the only ones who’d have guns would be the “bad boys” and law enforcement, he said. And, if all guns were taken away, the only ones who’d still have them would likely be law enforcement officers, he said.
“That would be another travesty because you can’t trust law enforcement,” he said. “Look at what Hitler did. He found out who had weapons, then he collected the weapons. After he collected the weapons, what did he have? A conquered society.
“So, it’s not the guns. If someone wants to do you in, you’re done,” said Fred, who was 9 himself when he saw a man shot and killed in the neighborhood where he grew up.
As a result, he wasn’t as shocked by some of the things he endured in the military and in boot camp as some others who had come from a “better” environment.
“It helped to some degree, but it doesn’t prepare you for everything,” Fred said. “For anyone to lose a child is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Another bitter pill is the fact that 30 years later, nothing has changed when it comes to gun violence, said Shontel Babb, Nolan’s daughter and Demetrius’ stepsister.
“We’re still killing each other, though we don’t know who killed my cousin. There are suspicions, rumors and indications that it was gang related. If so, then we’re killing each other and we don’t talk about this as much as talk about a white cop killing a black kid,” she said.
“That’s a huge deal but that happens so much less than black kids killing black kids,” Babb said. “I guess the takeaway for me is 30 years later, it’s business as usual. We’re still losing our kids.”
Mass killings by guns, such as the recent massacre in Orlando, also make her angry.
“I wish that people would allow other people to just live in peace,” she said.
Demetrius was a student at Wade Hampton High School. He was nicknamed “football and “foot” for short because that’s what he loved – just like his dad.
He’d told his father that he wanted to go to college and play football.
That dream died on a Monday night at a downtown Greenville nightclub, the New York Strip.
According to Nolan, Demetrius had been dancing with a girl until they decided to go outside and talk.
Shortly thereafter, a car pulled up. Shots were fired. Bullets flew into Demetrius, some close to his heart.
His friends put his body in a car and drove him to a hospital, where he later died.
It wasn’t the first time gun violence affected the Babb family. Nolan lost a leg after being shot by a scorned lover, Shontel said. He’s worn a prosthetic leg for as long as she can recall.
When gun violence claimed his son, Nolan found some comfort in having baby Jeremy around. Jeremy, he said, was like his own child.
Then Nolan suffered multiple strokes. The strokes have affected his memory and his speech, Shontel said.
Fred said that when Nolan lost Demetrius, “I couldn’t comprehend what he was going through. When I lost my son, I knew exactly what he was going through and even more so.”
Jeremy had been a joy to his father. He loved people, was easygoing, low-key and trusting, Fred said.
He’d attended a private Christian school until he entered Woodmont High, which he graduated from in 2009.
When his mother, Sharon, died in 2002, and his grandmother was placed into a nursing home, he moved back in with his father and stepmother, Debbie.
Both father and son relished the times they had talking about life, Fred said.
He often encouraged his son to put God first in his life and not be so trusting of people.
“I had told him numerous times to be leery of his friends, not to flaunt what he has on him, and not to carry large sums of money on him, no more than $50 at a time,” Fred said.
“I said ‘Your only friend is God but you can’t put yourself in harm’s way and say I ain’t got nothing to worry about.’ That was due to some of the talks that he and I had on a regular basis,” he said.
He’d talked to him about dating, relationships and just life in general.
“He said he liked talking to me because I always shot from the hip,” Fred said.
His passions included Air Jordan sneakers – at one time, he had 13 pairs, his dad said.
He also enjoyed video games and martial arts, which his parents got him started on at a young age. He was a member of Raja Academy and the Thai Boxing Association.
Jeremy was undecided about what career path to take after high school. He attended Greenville Tech for a while, Fred said, then landed a job at Food Lion.
He’d been working at Greenville Health System, in a job he “truly enjoyed” in material services, when he died.
Otherwise, Jeremy had a carefree lifestyle, Fred said. He had no bills and he had a trust fund he was enjoying.
“We were on the verge of buying a new home and he wanted to stay here. I told him he could if that’s what he wanted to do,” Fred said. “He and I were going to come together about fixing the exterior of the house.
“He just wanted to enjoy being a bachelor and he wanted to get back in school and get that degree,” his dad said.
The last time Fred saw his son alive, he was sitting in his favorite chair, watching TV.
Jeremy had popped in and asked if he was all right.
“I said, ‘Yeah. I’m right here just chilling,’ ” he said.
He asked Jeremy what he was into that evening. Jeremy had told him he would just be hanging with some friends.
“I said, ‘Look here, you be careful out there' He said, ‘OK. I'll see you later,’ ” Fred said.
In times past, when Jeremy came in after his father went to bed, Fred would hear him and see his shadow as he walked down the hall.
On the night he passed, “It could have been my imagination, but I could have sworn I saw the same shadow come down the hallway and I said, ‘Rest in peace,’ ” he said.
Fred and Jeremy, who would have turned 25 on June 21, had made plans for this Father’s Day. Jeremy was going to take his dad to see a movie, maybe sneak in a few hotdogs.
“It’s going to be hard,” Fred said. “I miss him.”
The two brothers encourage parents who still have their children to love them, spend time with them and talk with them as much as possible while they still can.
It only takes a moment to lose all that, they said.
And for those forced to cope with a sudden, tragic loss of a child due to a crime, Nolan advises them to persist in asking questions until they find out what happened.
“It gives you some consolation, some comfort to know the culprit has been apprehended, but a lot of times you have to go back to faith,” Fred said.
An Associated Press Member Exchange