SAN ANTONIO — Jermaine and LaKeisha Chaney, who have seven children, are still mourning the loss of their youngest son, Jeffery Taylor.
"It's been a struggle. I put on this beautiful face, but inside I hurt because I miss my baby," LaKeisha said.
Taylor loved God, church music, boxing, hats, costumes and pranks. The 7-year-old was known for being the first one up or getting up in the middle of the night for snacks, only to be found sleeping on the couch in the morning.
"He wasn't a bad child," Jermaine said.
Now, their home on Channel View in southeast San Antonio seems silent without his presence. For the grieving couple, the noise of their anguish bangs loud as a drum.
"A lot of people don't know his story," LaKeisha said.
The hurting mother said that on Dec. 20, 2019, her son got off the bus with his head hanging down.
"Why are you so sad? This is the last day of school?" she said. "Shouldn't you be happy? (It's) Christmas break?"
According to his mother, he said, "I should, but I'm not happy. I want to get away from that school. They don't listen to me. They don't like me."
She said Taylor alleged students from various grades called him the "N-word," "Blacky," "snaggletooth" and ugly. According to the Chaneys, the students went as far as destroying her son's shoes and a pair of boots.
"It just seems like he just was being targeted and picked on," Jermaine said. "He was just that one person that stood out."
At a parent/teacher conference, his mother said her son's desk sat segregated from the rest of the class. They said he was the only Black student. The teacher reportedly said Taylor might have been having issues with other students.
"No matter what I said to him that Friday, the day before," LaKeshia said, "it wasn't enough because he was already broken."
The Chaneys said they kissed their sleeping children goodnight after returning from an outing on Dec. 20. The following day, the mother said, she thought it odd Taylor was not up. She asked a sibling to check on him.
Everyone around her was crying.
"When I went to that room, all I could do is just scream," Jermaine said. "I just ran back out screaming at my wife. She couldn't hear me."
Her daughter pulled the earbuds playing gospel music from her mother's ear. LaKeisha said her daughter said her brother felt hard.
"I went straight to the room. I saw my baby laying there, like he normally is," she said. "But when I looked to the left, I saw my gun. And I saw dry blood on my baby's face."
His mother said she screamed and screamed more. She said she grabbed her son.
"And I just started holding Jeffery in my arms. My baby was hard as a rock. Just hard as a rock," she said. "I put him back...and all I could do was run."
San Antonio Police officials responded to the home for a shooting in progress call. The 7-year-old boy died at home.
Investigators called the shooting an accident, but they didn't say if they looked for signs of suicide.
"How could this happen?" Jermaine said.
The couple, who said they train to handle guns, thought their kids were unaware of firearms in the home. Taylor, according to his parents, did not even have play guns.
LaKeisha said her son found the gun in a Bible case under her bed. The couple accepts the responsibility for the first-grader finding the weapon. But the reason he retrieved it, in their mind, may tilt beyond accidental.
"I'm not sure what to think because my baby told me he was tired," LaKeisha said. "With that different voice."
His parents believe the incidents at school may be to blame.
Taylor attended Salado Elementary School in the East Central Independent School District. The system released the following statement about the allegations and Taylor's death:
"East Central ISD profoundly mourns the loss of Jeffery Taylor. He was a bright and well-liked student and we still, to this day, are in shock and disbelief over this tragedy. Our tight-knit community is filled with love, sorrow, and remembrance for Jeffery and his family. We continue to express our deepest condolences to his family, and our community is united in our compassion for healing and strength.
"We are saddened to hear about the allegations as any form of bullying, harassment, or violence is taken seriously and follows required state law, board policy, and District procedures. The District completed a thorough investigation with many teachers, staff, and classmates to determine if any bullying occurred. The investigation did not produce information to corroborate the allegations. The findings of the investigation were in a letter sent to the family on January 8, 2020.
"We investigated the allegations further at three levels: Salado Elementary, student services, and the superintendent. All investigations did not support the allegations.
"Approximately a little over a month before the incident occurred in 2019, Jeffery's teacher had a regularly scheduled parent conference with the mother. Bullying was never mentioned in the parent conference. No reports or complaints were ever filed or brought to the attention of Jeffery's teacher, school, or District office.
"East Central ISD provides ongoing training to its staff regarding bullying prevention and identification. Jeffery's teacher had completed this training prior to the incident.
"After Jeffery's passing, East Central ISD offered counseling and bereavement services to the Taylor family multiple times. The District also provided extensive support to friends and classmates of Jeffery.
"East Central ISD stands proudly united in our commitment to inclusion and diversity. Our schools participate in lessons regarding bullying prevention every October and offer many events for the students and community regarding inclusion. Our East Central Police Department has an active presence daily on campuses and promotes "see something, say something" as part of Operation Safe Schools. Our equity committee and task force continue to be proactive in assessing that our system protocols and procedures continue to be equitable and inclusive.
"East Central ISD again expresses its deepest condolences and continues to be a source of support and healing."
In three audio recordings obtained by KENS 5, ESCISD Superintendent Roland Toscano met with LaKeisha, a minister's alliance supporting Taylor and his grandmother.
Toscano said his investigation revealed Taylor had no academic issues. The elementary school student, described as a leader, had no problem calling out students who did not align with school rules. That, Toscano said, may have caused some contention.
Toscano talked about the challenges of getting solid accounts from students for such a serious investigation on the recordings.
But Taylor's defenders said he never got a chance to list his alleged offenders due to his death.
The school leader said if a person feels bullied, that perception remains valid to the victim.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.