Police, judge help get headstone for murdered teen’s grave

By Kenny Green, Carrollton Leader

A Mesquite mother can rest easier thanks to the generosity of several police associations and a Dallas County judge.

The groups came together to help purchase a headstone for a teenager murdered four years ago.

Shania Gray was killed by Franklin Davis, a man she accused of raping her two years before in Mesquite. During an investigation into the sexual assault, she switched schools, leaving Horn High School to attend Hebron High School in Carrollton.

Davis used a Facebook account with a fake persona and a few phone calls to gain her trust, find out her location and arrange to meet her.

For many, it all seems a distant memory. Others, like Gray’s former track teammate Ladena Lachman, think about it all the time.

“We grew up together – she was like a sister to me,” Lachman said.

In May, Lachman visited her late friend’s grave. Upon arriving at the cemetery, though, she needed a caretaker’s help to find it.

“I was upset because I couldn’t find her,” she said. I went home crying.”

Lachman’s family contacted Lisa Abbe and told her about the lack of any type of marking or headstone on Gray’s grave. Jeffrey’s two sons ran track with Gray.

“I knew Shania needed a headstone and [her mother] needed a place where she could come and grieve,” she said.

Abbe contacted Dallas County Judge Brandon Birmingham, who was lead prosecutor in Gray’s murder case, and he agreed to help acquire a headstone.

“It’s something that hopefully will bring some more closure to Shania’s family,” Birmingham said. “Bringing closure to families like this is the whole reason why we have the criminal justice system.”

He called Gray’s case unique because it was a rare instance when someone was murdered for coming forward about another crime committed by her killer.

“It sent shockwaves all throughout the system and [shook] it to its very core,” the judge said.

Contributions from Birmingham, the Balch Springs Police Association, the Carrollton Police Association and the Mesquite Police Association totaled about $900 and was used to purchase a heart-shaped headstone.

“After hearing the story and what the family had gone through, we felt like it was something we should do,” said CJ Phillips, Mesquite Police Association president. “ I didn’t know her personally, but from what I understand, she was a very bright lady and had a very bright future ahead of her, so I think it’s important for that to be remembered.”

On Saturday, family, friends and supporters came together for a surprise unveiling of the headstone for Gray’s mother Sherry Gray-James. The lead investigators in both the sexual assault and murder cases, Birmingham and representatives of the police associations were also in attendance.

“I always wanted to do something [for her], but it was hard because to me it was the last thing that would say she’s not coming home,” her mother said. “I appreciate those who wanted to do something for me even when I couldn’t do it myself.”

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