Gloria Hardeman decorated her dining room with balloons, cards, posters and other things to celebrate her son’s birthday on Saturday, Dec. 17, even though he had been killed two months earlier.
Matthew Hardeman was shot and killed Oct. 15 in his sister’s front yard off Lakewood Terrace in southwest Atlanta. He was 19.
“Even though I put my son in the ground, I still can’t understand…They shot him like he was a dog in the street. He didn’t deserve that—a dog doesn’t deserve that,” Gloria said.
Recently, Verlaine LaGuerre was arrested in connection with Matthew’s death and a trial date was set for Dec. 28.
Gloria said although she is still grieving, the death of her son has motivated Matthew’s family and friends to go out into the world and do as much as they can in his name.
“He was somebody who always finished what he started,” D.J. Tanner¸ Matthew’s brother-in-law said.
Matthew was a star football player at Avondale High School. While there, he helped bring the school to the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. Hardeman left such an impression that several Avondale alumni dedicated an award in his honor, which was passed down until the school closed in 2010.
Mike Carson, who coached Hardeman at Avondale, said he had seen him a week before the shooting.
“We talked about life, doing the right thing and staying out of trouble. He wanted to get back in school and finish up. I told him to be positive and keep doing what he was doing,” Carson said.
After graduating from Avondale, Hardeman attended Fullerton Community College in California on a football scholarship. In spring, an injury forced him to return home for surgery. He had planned to enroll in Georgia State University and try out for the football team next fall.
In the meantime, Hardeman had been playing on a semi-pro football team in Clayton County called the Georgia Jets and moved in with his sister in southwest Atlanta.
Carson has spoken to Matthew’s mother since the shooting and said, “It’s still hard for her, knowing he’s not here. The fact that someone can take a life over a disagreement, it’s tough.”
Matthew had moved in to his sister’s house to help with her baby and had begun seeing one of the girls across the street. According to Gloria, an argument escalated over the girl and Matthew ended up in a fight with someone over it.
“He didn’t know anything about that neighborhood over there,” Gloria said. “I didn’t like the neighborhood, it was a bad neighborhood and I think his sister was having problems with her neighbor.”
Gloria said after Matthew got into the fight, he thought that would be the end of it. However, later that night he was killed by four suspects whom she said most likely had ties to the neighbor Matthew fought with earlier that day.
“They’ve caught two of them,” Gloria said. “We won’t get Matthew back but at least we’ll get some justice from it. We want all of them caught though, not just half of them.”
Gloria said she hasn’t been able to cook a full meal since her son died—she finds herself wandering around the house as if lost sometimes, and still has trouble putting into words how she feels—but the thing that keeps her going every day is remembering how many people Matthew touched during his short life. “He was important to everyone who knew him,” Gloria said.
Tanner remembered a time when Matthew was made to sit out of a football game because he was falling behind in his schoolwork. Shortly into the first quater fans began to chant his name.
“Everybody said put him in the game and sure enough they did. I’ve never seen that before,” Tanner said. “Everything he accomplished though he made sure you knew about. He wouldn’t let you forget it.”
Gloria remembered a time when Matthew was 16 years old and his cousin, who was several years older than him, after surgery and drug problems caused he to suffer a mental breakdown and stop talking.
“He would come over here and Matthew would say, ‘C’mon man you’ve got to talk, you’ve got to get yourself together.’ Then, all of a sudden as time passed he started talking again, but he would talk to nobody but Matthew,” she said.
Gloria said things will never be the same without her son but she has faith that justice will be done and some good will come out of his death. Gloria said Matthew was the type of person who would do anything he was asked and “if you didn’t ask him he’d ask you and say, ‘Can I help?’”
With Matthew it was never a dull moment, she said, everyone would be hanging on his every word if he was in the room, waiting for him to make them laugh.
“The only boring moment is now. The only sad moment is now,” she said. “But, he was important to everybody who knew him…he was special. Like Coach Carson said, all the years he’s been coaching, Matthew was the only guy who touched him like he did.”