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Mother of VSU hazing victim pens book about finding peace

Posted at 12:00 AM, Jul 24, 2016

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Jauwan Holmes had so many songs left to sing.

"He loved music. He loved to sing," said his mother, Dionne Williams.  "It just seemed like he had so much there before him to pursue in life."

The 19-year-old's life ended three years ago in the Appomattox River during a hazing incident near Virginia State University.  Now his mother is sharing what got her and her husband through the tragic time in her new book, A Penny is Worth More than You Think.

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"We feel that this book will bless so many other parents and people who’ve been through something similar or dealt with any type of tragic loss," said Williams' husband, Steve Williams.

Holmes and Portsmouth teenager Marvell Edmondson were freshman at VSU in April 2013.  They were instructed to cross the Appomattox River as part of an initiation into the off-campus group Men of Honor.

The Williams' remember waiting at the river for a sign.

"I kept believing and praying to God," said Dionne Williams.  "I said you raised Lazarus. I can believe you to raise Jauwan out of the Appomattox River. He can shake himself off, cough a couple of times, and walk away."

Divers discovered their bodies days later.

It was an unimaginable blow, especially for a family who was known for their faith in God.

"You do question your faith," said Steve Williams.  "You say hey, we`re praying and we`re doing everything that we know to be pleasing unto God, but we`ve lost our son and it just doesn`t make sense."

During their search for answers, Dionne Williams found the pen.  As she poured out the pain and sorrow, a silver lining appeared.  Her book holds the key to how she and her husband found their smiles again.

"It`s a peace I can say that God has given us," she said.

Peace, she said they found by forgiving the four men found guilty in Jauwan and Marvell's deaths.  Charles Zollicoffer, Eriq Benson, Cory Baytop, and James Mackey - part of that men of honor group - each spent a year or less behind bars.

"Forgiving them was hard, but it was something that we had to do," she said. "To forgive someone that has taken someone dearly from you, that you gave birth to, that`s a lot, but I meant every word of it."

The book also digs into the mother's history of abuse and misguided choices. She reveals how those lessons and finding purpose after Jauwan's death can help others live their lives after loss.

"I could have lost my mind," she said.  "A lot things could have happened, but it didn't. So why can`t I still believe and trust God?"

Williams believes her son would be proud of the book.

"He would be happy," she said.