Dorothy Hall still feeling pain of son's death
DETROIT -- There is a long pause as Dorothy Hall lifts her glasses and wipes her eyes. Boy, where to begin, she says softly.
She has cried every day for nearly a year, she says, since her youngest son, Brandon, was shot and killed in downtown Minneapolis only hours after playing his first college football game for the University of Minnesota. So many memories, so many tears.
How about the good times? Those everyday moments when her son would do something silly to make her laugh. Or all those Sundays at church when he refused to play with the other kids because he wanted to stand by his mama. How about the time he came home and asked if she would organize a football booster club at his school because, well, the team needed it and everybody liked her? So the single mom who had a full-time job and knew nothing about football added one more responsibility to her plate.
Or is it necessary to start with that horrible night last fall when her world came crashing down with one phone call? Do you start with the pain and sorrow? Her anger and loneliness?
This is the daily struggle that consumes Dorothy Hall.
Hall's murder Sept. 1 rocked the football program and brought widespread grief from Gophers fans, the college football community and distant observers who flooded a fan Web site with messages to the family. Hall's teammates honored him by wearing his number 71 on their jerseys last season. They say his death brought them closer, made them feel more like a family.
The man accused of killing Hall was convicted of intentional second-degree murder last month. Prosecutors said they will seek a 25-year sentence for Jermaine Stansberry at his hearing next Thursday.
Dorothy, who attended most of the trial, welcomed the verdict, but it has done little to ease her pain. She doesn't know if that will ever happen.
"Brandon was my joy, my baby," she says. "It's been a year, and I've been crying every day. For a whole year."
A picture of Brandon in his Gophers uniform sits on a table in the dining room on Dorothy's three-bedroom home in a working-class neighborhood on Detroit's east side. Next to it is a photo of Dorothy's oldest son, 24-year-old Seneca, a naval officer stationed in San Diego. He is an air traffic controller who recently completed a three-year stint aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship.
They were as different as brothers could be, Dorothy says. Seneca was a bookworm, Brandon an athlete. Seneca was independent, Brandon a mama's boy. Though separated by interests and nearly five years in age, the boys followed Dorothy's rules in lockstep.
Dinner came first, followed by homework and television time. They were in bed at 9 p.m. No questions.
"I can still tell when it's 9 o'clock," Dorothy says, "because Seneca's head slumps over."
Routine is important to Dorothy, who was born and raised in Detroit, the eighth of 12 kids. She has worked for State Farm for 23 years and always kept close tabs on her boys.
"The police did not know my kids' names," she says.
Not that she ever really worried about them, especially Brandon. Friends and family say he was a good kid with a soft heart and warm smile. Dorothy still shakes her head over the time Brandon visited a friend in the hospital every day without telling anybody. Dorothy wasn't thrilled to learn her son was going to a hospital unsupervised, but she marveled at his compassion.
"He was a truly happy kid," she says. "You don't mind giving your all to kids like that."
So she did, even more so when Seneca enlisted in the Navy after high school. Dorothy and Brandon grew especially close over the years. He taught her about football. She taught him about life. They were a team.
"Dorothy was everything to Brandon," says Andy Rio, athletic director at Brandon's alma mater, Finney High. "Whenever he needed something or the team needed something, she was there."
Dorothy even accompanied him on recruiting trips, although she stayed behind when he visited Minnesota. When Brandon returned home and said he wanted to play for the Gophers, she asked him to explain what the Big Ten was.
"I guess that's a woman for you," she says with a smile.
They had life mapped out. Brandon often talked about returning to Detroit someday and working as a high school counselor. He was a problem solver, the kind of guy who always wanted to make things right when others couldn't or wouldn't.
But that concerned Dorothy, too. She worried about Brandon's eagerness to solve conflicts. She talked to him about it before he returned to school last year.
"I told him that some people want to be angry," she says. "A lot of people don't want to be talked out of doing things. And the same thing that I talked to him about that day was the same thing that got him killed."
Dorothy's final conversation with Brandon didn't last long. He called her after the Gophers' 42-0 victory against Southwest Texas State. As a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, it was his first game, and he recorded one tackle. He was happy. So was she.
Dorothy hung up and took a bath. She remembers the water being scorching hot. Tired from working in her yard all day, she went to bed soon thereafter.
Dorothy awoke to hear the phone ringing about 3 a.m. It was Brandon's girlfriend, Tiffany Peel, saying he had been shot.
Numb from fear, Dorothy hung up and walked to her neighbor's house. She returned minutes later and called Seneca in California. Tiffany called back and told Dorothy to sit down.
"I said, 'No. Just go ahead and tell me," Dorothy says. "I knew."
In that instant, her life was ripped apart. One of Dorothy's brothers was murdered in a robbery years ago. But this was her son, her baby. She took three months off work to deal with her loss.
"I guess it wasn't long enough," she says.
Dorothy says her emotions range from sadness to anger. And so many questions are left unanswered, such as why he went downtown that night. Gophers players say Hall and several others came to the aid of a teammate who had been assaulted. Dorothy says they had many conversations over the years about staying away from downtown areas late at night.
She also wonders why, according to witnesses, Brandon made a nonthreatening motion with his hand to Stansberry rather than turn and run away. Why didn't he just run?
"So I question myself, whether I am to blame," she says. "Did I raise him wrong?"
But then Dorothy reminds herself of the phone conversation they had two days before he died. It was unusually long, and Brandon kept telling his mom how much he loved her.
"I told him how proud I was of him, that he had done good in life," she says. "I was thanking him for being a good kid."
Dorothy has rearranged Brandon's bedroom to accommodate some of the mementos she has received since his death. There is an engraved clock and football from the Gophers. His No. 71 game jersey is hanging in a glass case inside the state-of-the-art Brandon D. Hall Fitness Center at Finney High.
The "M" club will honor Brandon by presenting Dorothy with an honorary "M" letter at its Hall of Fame banquet on Sept. 19. Gophers coach Glen Mason will make the presentation.
The healing still continues for Mason and his players, too. A towel with Hall's name and number is taped to the inside door of the team's locker room, a constant reminder to everyone who goes in and out.
"There's not a day that goes by that guys don't think about him or talk about him," Gophers co-offensive coordinator Mitch Browning says.
Seneca says he tries to remember only the good times he shared with his brother. Simple things, such as their one-on-one basketball games.
"He beat me pretty badly the last time we played," he says. "I was looking forward to another game."
As for Dorothy, she isn't sure if her heart will ever heal. She had so many hopes and dreams for Brandon. She looks around her house and is constantly reminded of her gentle giant.
"I'm thinking about moving," she says. "I'll stay in Detroit. But maybe just get away from here."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- Winston, McCarron take home top awards
- McCarron: Saban said he's staying at Bama
- Texas' Brown: My situation hasn't changed
- A&M's Manziel ready to take it to next level