Video: 'One of the greatest women in the world'

By
msnbc.com
updated 3/6/2007 5:47:07 PM ET 2007-03-06T22:47:07

This was not the way Leroy Gregory wanted to come home.

Gregory, a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army, is back in Philadelphia on emergency leave to bury his mother, Cotneita Hanchard, a Jamaican immigrant who was just days away from retiring when she was gunned down on her way home from work last week.

Homicide detectives said the gunman who killed Hanchard, who would have turned 65 on Sunday, and a co-worker, Dwayne Bell, 41, was still at large. Hanchard’s family intends to post a reward.

Leroy Gregory was Hanchard’s youngest son, and he was joined in mourning the loss of his mother by four brothers and sisters and Hanchard’s 17 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Gregory learned of the murder a few hours after Hanchard’s body was found in a parking lot in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia. He was serving in Bagram, Afghanistan, when he was told to call his wife in North Carolina.

“She said, ‘Your mom died,’” Gregory told NBC affiliate WCAU-TV. “And I said: ‘My mom died? My mom ain’t sick.’ She said, ‘No, somebody shot your mom.’” 

Bell was a coach for the Mount Airy Banthams Youth Association. He was killed on his birthday, said Earl Morgan, a fellow coach. “It’s tough," Morgan said. "I was kind of blown away. I don’t know what to say.”

A senseless, random act
Police said Bell was giving Hanchard a ride home after their shift at a hotel when they were attacked. Their wallets and IDs were not found at the crime scene, where a similar homicide occurred in December.

It was, it seems, an apparently random act of violence, something Gregory thought he had gotten used to in Afghanistan.

“Just when you thought the war was over there in Afghanistan, the war is back here,” he said. “I mean, I thought the front line was over there, but there is somebody here who decided they were going to take my mom away.”

Gregory said he cannot understand how someone could kill his mother in cold blood.

“Here I am, fighting for freedom. Freedom ain’t free but, golly, not my mom. I tell you what — that’s one of the greatest women in the world, man. Trust me, greatest woman in the world: Five kids almost by herself.

“I’m the last of the five kids. People don’t know how many lives they’ve touched by taking that one life right there.”

The losses to the Hanchard and Bell families left Gregory wondering whether there aren’t bigger problems to solve at home.

“Am I fighting the wrong war over there?” he asked. “Do I need to stay here to fight this war? Do I need to protect the people that I love most?

“I’m trying to protect this country, but I need this country to protect my people, as well.”

Mike Strug is a reporter for NBC affiliate WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. Alex Johnson is a reporter for MSNBC.com

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