Elizabeth Richardson got only as far as a hallway inside her house.
She couldn't bear to go farther when she returned recently to the Violet home where she and her only child, Warren Easton senior India Mahoney, were both shot in the face. The Jan. 13 shooting left Mahoney dead and Richardson critically injured. Richardson's husband has been charged in the shooting.
Richardson has lived at her sister's house nearby in St. Bernard Parish since her release from the hospital at the end of January.
In the beginning, she cried all day. And her overwhelming grief was shared by others a dozen miles away in New Orleans.
After the death of their promising classmate, Easton students began wearing pictures of Mahoney's face. They still do.
"It's not fair, she can't be here with us" as graduation nears, said senior Arion Moore, 17, a close friend. "It's not like she had that much more to go."
A little more than two months since Mahoney's death, allegedly at the hands of the man who taught her how to ride a bike and drive a car, students at the Canal Street school and relatives fondly recall the gregarious teenager. A collective and personal grief has left Easton shaken.
On Saturday, the school community will honor Mahoney, 18, at the Warren Easton Festival.
"She truly was the person that people thought she was, " Richardson said.
Stepfather tried to flee
On Wednesday, a grand jury in St. Bernard indicted Richardson's husband, Charles Richardson, on a first-degree murder charge.
Charles Richardson, 50, who was arrested and returned to St. Bernard after he fled to southern Missouri, remains in jail, awaiting trial.
Elizabeth Richardson, 55, whose mouth is wired, declined to talk much about the 5:30 a.m. shooting.
The bullet that hit her entered the left side of her face below her ear lobe and exited the right side, without causing major nerve damage.
She spent three weeks in intensive care. She has had five surgeries and faces more. Initially, she wasn't expected to survive.
"You're looking at a miracle, " said Richardson, a retired state social worker.
The post office has delivered hundreds of cards from well-wishers, many from people Richardson doesn't know. She has kept them all.
She can talk now, but her speech is difficult to understand. She returned to driving recently and leaves her sister's house more often to reclaim a sense of independence.
She still cries, saying it helps her manage the bad moments.
"India meant everything to me, " Richardson said.
Mahoney's close friends question why the student would be killed during a violent rampage, especially "by someone who's supposed to be a protector, " Moore said.
Schoolmates said Mahoney said little about her life at home, but did indicate she had argued with her stepfather before.
Richardson had obtained a restraining order against her husband in September but allowed him to return to the house in November, about the time Charles Richardson was going through kidney dialysis, authorities said.
Richardson adopted Mahoney in 1990. The new parent cried when she held the days-old girl, bundled in white.
"I really wanted to be a mom, " said Richardson, then 36.
Through the years, Richardson arranged her life around her daughter, driving her to and from school in a neighboring parish, meting out discipline but spoiling her too.
"I used to tell her, 'When I find my receipt, I'm going to return you, ' " Richardson would joke with Mahoney.
Mahoney would reply: "You should have never bought me."
The mood at Easton has been different since January, some students and staff members say. The change is hard to put into words, they said.
Some students said they still wake up each morning with the fleeting hope that the murder was just a terrible dream.
Shortly after Mahoney's death, groups of students gathered in a hallway to pray. One of them sang "Amazing Grace."
"It really showed me that she touched a lot of people, " said Giandria West, 16, who played with Mahoney on the volleyball team.
Volleyball and softball teammates, along with other students, plastered photos on Mahoney's locker and made a collage on a wall near her homeroom. One image shows Mahoney with other seniors during spirit week. Another captures Mahoney in her yellow cap and gown, the outfit chosen for her casket.
"She left behind great memories -- endless memories, " said fellow senior Jamal Martin, 18, who was in Mahoney's homeroom.
Students remember Mahoney as one who wrote poetry and acted goofy.
She would do the Stanky Legg, a hip-hop dance, in the hallways. Some students called her "Ms. Stanky Legg." She didn't seem to care what others thought.
She once bought Principal Alexina Medley a Diet Coke, which Medley jokingly had asked for as payment for sharing phone numbers that were stored in her cell phone.
But Mahoney had a serious life plan too: Graduate and study engineering at Southern University at Baton Rouge, then earn more degrees than Richardson, who holds a master's degree in social work. Her report cards showed As and Bs.
"She had drive, she had goals, " said Derronisha Green, 15, a cousin. "She was going somewhere with her life."
At Easton's May graduation, administrators will leave a seat open in honor of Mahoney. They will call her name because she earned her diploma, Medley said.
"Although she is not here in body, her spirit is still with the Class of 2009, " Medley said.
Her mother said she will muster the strength to attend.