Losing Christian 

Suspect's mother recalls a troubled son; a friend remembers the man who was murdered

Christian Henderson was supposed to be there. His best friend was playing at the Earl. Rick Harris, drummer for Heinous Bienfang, says his bandmates were urging him on stage while he was dialing Henderson's cell. No answer. Harris played without him.

Afterward, he began loading out. "Just as I'm being handed the last piece of equipment," Harris remembers, "my singer gets a call from my wife saying Christian's been shot."

Nearly two months passed between that night, March 7, and the day a teenager was arrested for Henderson's murder. He'd been shot once, in front of his fiancee, a block beyond East Atlanta Village -- and a block from where the suspect lived.

Piecing together the events surrounding the shooting and subsequent arrest proves tricky; police and prosecutors have been tight-lipped, and documents on un-indicted juveniles are scarce.

But conversations with the mother of 15-year-old suspect Lavan Hickman and with Harris, Henderson's friend of 15 years, reveal a study in contrasts. While the world surrounding the arrestee had gone increasingly dark, that around the victim was growing increasingly bright.

In January, Claudine Jackson moved her family from Alabama, where they'd lived for four years, back to Georgia -- in part to get help for her youngest son, she says.

Jackson says the teenager had been in trouble for breaking into cars and stores, and had spent eight months in an Alabama boot camp. (Her account cannot be verified, since juveniles' records cannot be released.) She also says her son was kicked out of ninth grade after a fight last year and had not returned to school.

Around the time of the fight, the Alabama clinic that had been treating Hickman with anti-psychotic medication refused to continue his treatment because he missed an appointment, according to Jackson. That was nine months ago.

Jackson provided CL with documentation showing her son had been on a daily 100-milligram dose of Seroquel, which manages psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.

"I have no doctor that can write out his pills," Jackson wrote in a letter she claims to have sent to several Georgia hospitals in January. "It's so hard on me without his medication."

At the end of April, Jackson took Hickman to Grady Memorial Hospital for what she says she thought would be a routine evaluation. She says her son was then transferred to DeKalb Regional Medical Center for a few days.

So it was a surprise, she says, when Hickman called home three days later and said he was no longer at the hospital -- that he was at a youth detention center, arrested for murder.

"I hate it that that person got shot," Jackson says, adding that her son claims he didn't do it. "And I hate it that Van is not here with me."

Atlanta Police spokesman Sgt. John Quigley would only confirm that Hickman was arrested at DeKalb Regional May 1 and a warrant for his arrest had been issued the day before. He declined further comment.

DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney Greg Schwarz says he plans to take the Hickman case to the grand jury by August. Hickman, who turned 16 in April, is being treated by the courts as an adult.

Schwarz also says Christian's fiancee, who requested not to be named, and an Atlanta detective were scheduled to testify at a probable cause hearing June 25 (the day after CL went to press). He would not give additional details.

Henderson, a 32-year-old wine purveyor well respected in the city's restaurant community, was at a high point of his life when he and his fiancee began walking from the East Atlanta restaurant where they'd just eaten toward their car, according to Harris.

"It seemed to me and everyone around that he had found the one," Harris says of Henderson's fiancee. "And that makes it a lot harder to swallow this whole thing. Because his perfect life that he'd been trying to create was at the starting line when this happened."

The couple was supposed to be heading to the Earl to see Harris.

It was Harris who introduced Henderson to his successful career, by getting him his first kitchen job at a local Greek restaurant shortly after the two graduated high school.

Less than two years after graduation, however, Henderson had to take a hiatus. At 19, he'd been diagnosed with lymph node cancer. "But he beat it," says Harris, who visited his friend during the months-long hospital stay.

Thirteen years later, Harris visited Henderson in the hospital again.

Henderson managed to survive the initial impact of a small caliber bullet to his stomach. But 12 days later, he was losing ground. Harris says Henderson's fiancee called March 19 and told him, "You need to get down here and say your goodbyes."

"That's not the way I wanted to see him or the way I wanted to remember him," Harris says of his last visit with his friend. "I pushed that image to the far, far back of my mind."

Henderson died that day.

mara.shalhoup@creativeloafing.com

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