BLOOMINGTON — After almost four years, La’Ronn Carroll still struggles with the loss of his best friend, an agony that runs so deep that sometimes he wishes it would have been him who took the bullet and not the 16-year-old he considered a brother.
Hardest to escape in Carroll’s darkest moments is the reality that he was holding the gun when it accidentally fired, killing Kuantrae Massey. The two teens were hanging out with a group of friends on Jan. 21, 2013 when Carroll pulled a handgun from the couch at Massey’s house and pointed it at the others. The weapon fired, hitting Massey in the chest.
Accepting Carroll's contention that the shooting was an accident, a jury acquitted him of murder, but convicted him of involuntary manslaughter.
Carroll was released from prison in October after serving 10 months of a 5 1/2- year prison sentence. His term was reduced by credits for his time in the county jail and day-for-day good time while in prison.
Now living at home with his parents in Normal, the 21-year-old is working to rebuild the life put on hold when he was arrested at age 17.
“Somedays, I still have coping problems. I’m wishing it was me and I could trade places with Trae. That’s how much I miss him,” said Carroll, who is attending Heartland Community College.
The tragedy also will be forever on the minds of Carroll’s parents, Larry and Raquel Carroll, who also considered Massey a member of the family.
“We understand their loss and what they went through. None of that has been forgotten,” said Raquel Carroll.
For Larry Carroll, helping his 17-year-old son navigate the adult court system was a challenging, new experience.
“You have to grow up real fast,” said Carroll, a program assistant at Normal's Hammitt School for children with behavioral disorders.
Three months in Stateville Correctional Center, a complex that houses the state’s reception center for new inmates, is an experience the young Carroll never wants to repeat. He also spent seven months at the minimum security prison at Robinson is southern Illinois.
Carroll's short term at the facility precluded him from services available to other inmates, including educational classes. He received his high school diploma through a correspondence course after he was released.
He said strong family support has been key to his efforts to rebuild his life.
"Without them, I wouldn't be on this path," he said.
The months of waiting for a trial and the hours spent in the hallway outside the courtroom waiting for a verdict were stressful for the Carrolls and their supporters. Raquel Carroll never accepted the possibility that her son could be locked up for decades.
"I wasn't prepared for that. I wasn't prepared when they took him out of the Bloomington Police Department to jail," she said.
Larry Carroll relied on his faith.
"I just knew that God would give us a decision on what he felt was best for our son. I was ready for that decision," he said.
The family is realistic about the hurdles La'Ronn will face with his felony record. But looking back at how far they have come in the past 12 years — including being homeless because their paychecks fell short of what it took for rent in Chicago — the Carrolls take it in stride.
Education is the first priority, then helping others.
"I want him to finish school and be able to be a positive role model to the younger kids," said Racquel Carroll.