Nickolette Hall sensed death was about to hit her family.
“I’m a very spiritual person,” Hall said. “I kept telling my family for a whole year I was ready to say goodbye to them. Something was telling me I was about to die.”
Hall never thought it would be her son.
A year after Hall’s recurring premonition, her son Phillip Darnell Simmo
ns-Smith was murdered on Aug. 13, 2017. Smith had been hanging out with a group of people when he was shot multiple times. Smith was found dead by police in the driver’s seat of a red Chrysler in the parking lot of the Norman E. Owens apartments in East St. Louis, Ill. He was on military leave at the time.
Hall said her nights have been sleepless because she refuses to let her son’s death go completely unsolved. She said she doesn’t feel secure in the detective’s work.
“When you lose a child, they don’t really see the reality of it being a case to be solved,” Hall said. “I think they’re working, and it’s just a 9 to 5, almost like they’re playing a game.”
Hall takes issue with the East St. Louis Police Department (ESLPD)’s handling of her son’s case. She said she thinks the police are not doing enough with the information they have to make a difference in her son’s case.
“It’s a lot of frustrations because I have to keep quiet,” Hall said. “I feel tremendously let down because he’s gone and has no voice. Although I’m trying to have a voice, I’m also running scared.”
Devonte L. Lindsey and Shavon L. Brownlee were arrested for the shooting death of Smith. Lindsey and Brown were both charged with first-degree murder in November of 2017. One suspect is still at large.
“There is no rest until this is completely solved,” Hall said. “There’s three involved, so all three need to be in jail. You can’t just give me two and think I’m going to be comfortable with walking these streets of East St. Louis.”
Angela Carpenter also lost her son. Michael Lee, 19, was found fatally shot in East St. Louis on June 24, 2017. Carpenter said she did not notice a difference in Lee’s behavior prior to his death.
“[Lee] last spoke on the phone at 2:16 a.m. and at 2:30 [a.m.] my son was dead,” Carpenter said. “The police tell me they’re working on it, but I don’t see it.”
Carpenter shares Hall’s frustration with the ESLPD. Before Carpenter’s son’s death, a detective in the ESLPD asked Carpenter to bring Lee to his office, but she never got around to it.
“He [the detective] said to me ‘Remember when I asked you to bring Mike down here to talk and you never did? It’s like karma, now no one wants to talk to you,’” Carpenter said. “I looked at him like, ‘What do you mean karma?’ and from then on I knew they [the police] didn’t want to help me.”
Former East St. Louis Chief of Police Michael Hubbard served as chief during the time Smith and Lee were murdered. Hubbard was also active in addressing unsolved murders in East St. Louis during his tenure as chief.
Hubbard said unsolved murders in East St. Louis have been an issue. In his 22 years, more cases went unsolved than solved. He said murders may remain unsolved from a combination of being understaffed, overworked and – in some cases – being too lax in their investigations.
“Going back to when I was chief of police, there was a lack of manpower that plagued the department,” Hubbard said. “One of my cries was that I needed resources and grant funding for men and equipment. I believe even the present chief’s cry is for more manpower.”
Hubbard said it can make a difference in the growth of the ESLPD and the community’s cooperation if unsolved murders are addressed more.
Hubbard was also one of the only people Hall trusted with her son’s case, but Hall never stopped with her own efforts.
“I wore bulletproof vests, threw out fliers and all kinds of stuff,” Hall said. “Nobody is going to work these streets as hard as I am for my son.”
Hall struggles to cope with her son’s death every day, but she is more worried about her children than herself. Smith left behind five siblings. All are active in the military, except for his 13-year-old sister Machaila Simmons.
Simmons said her brother’s death was shocking, but she is handling it better than she used to. She said she and Smith had a great relationship and they enjoyed spending time together.
“He would just come by and pick me up,” Simmons said. “We would go riding to the mall or park. We joked around a lot and I used his computer that he made his songs on. He really loved music.”
Simmons and Hall often support each other whenever one of them has an emotional moment.
“She [Machaila] told me she cried one day in her room, and I told her ‘Don’t ever do that,’” Hall said. “We cry together, you don’t have to hold in your tears.”
Hall said that they speak of Phillip every day in their household. Even though he is gone, they keep his memory alive.
“I’m an advocate for every mother that has lost a child now,” Hall said. “There’s no future without our sons. We need our sons. I need my boy today.”