Lake Charles mom graduates with a degree in criminal justice, hopes to solve daughter’s murder case

Theresa Tillman graduated with honors at Sowela Technical Community College on Monday.

Mother of local murder victim graduates with a degree in criminal justice

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The 2016 death of LaShuntae Benton is a tragedy her mother, Theresa Tillman, has to live through every day.

“This is a daily struggle,” Tillman said. “Every day, I struggle from the loss of my child.”

Lake Charles native LaShuntae Benton was shot and killed on April 10, 2016.
Lake Charles native LaShuntae Benton was shot and killed on April 10, 2016. (Source: KPLC)

Benton was shot and killed on April 10, 2016, in the crossfire of two shooters at a social gathering in Baton Rouge. No one has been charged with her death, but after three years, Tillman is devoted to finding justice for her child.

“What keeps me going is my kids and my family and the memory of my daughter because I know my daughter left a legacy behind,” she said. “I have to fulfill it, even through the pain.”

Tillman graduated with honors at Sowela Technical Community College on Monday with an associate degree in criminal justice, a hard work paid off for her daughter.

“As a parent, you never give up on your children and you strive to get your kids in college,” Tillman said. “You hoping that they succeed and get a degree, and my daughter was on that path to do that and her life was cut short violently for no reason.”

Photos of LaShuntae Benton adorn her mother's graduation cap.
Photos of LaShuntae Benton adorn her mother's graduation cap. (Source: KPLC)

Benton attended Southern University and in May 2016, her family was awarded with a posthumous degree.

Although Benton’s absence was felt at Tillman’s graduation, family members and friends cheered the class of 2019 graduate on.

Tillman’s oldest son, Terence Thompson, said he’s proud of what his mom accomplished.

“She’s a great example and a perfect role model,” Thompson said. “You can do anything you put your mind to no matter what life throws at you. Got me wanting to go to college,” Thompson said, smiling at his mother.

The milestone is one of many Tillman has to conquer before fulfilling her dream of becoming a detective. Tillman plans to work for law enforcement, but before she gets there, she wants police to give it their all.

“Give it the best that you’ve got, that’s all I want them to do,” Tillman said. “I’m gonna work for law enforcement somewhere, but even if I have to do my child’s case on my own, I’m going to do that and that’s what I’m seeking to do.”

Tillman plans to obtain a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at McNeese State University and possibly minor in sociology.

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