Margaret Pearson refused to believe it.
"I have a doctor and his name is Dr. Jesus," she would say.
She talked to her son at his bedside daily — "like a mother would do," she said. "I would call his name."
She recited the 23rd Psalm.
"I would say it to Stevie, and he'd blink his eyes," Pearson said.
Pearson watched as her son bounced between hospitals and long-term care facilities with bed sores and pneumonia.
"I prayed for God to give him peace," she said. "He had suffered enough."
When Steven Pearson's organs began shutting down in October his extended family jammed his room, spilling out into the hallway to say goodbye.
Briggs asked her brothers, sisters and other family members to say something to let Stevie know they were there. Just then, Briggs said, he opened his eyes wide. He held on for another week.
"After he died, I said, 'Thank God you have him in your hand, and I feel better,' " Margaret Pearson said.
Her anger turned toward whoever had killed her son. She imagines someone who was too lazy to work.
She labors to put her loss in perspective. In an era in which mass shootings have become common, she says, she tries to remember that she is not the only parent dealing with loss.
She stays busy at Mount Moriah Baptist, where she has been an usher for more than 60 years. A quiet woman, she does more listening than speaking when she helps out weekly at the church's food and clothing bank.
Many who come have told Pearson they have been in and out of jail. Pearson can't help but wonder if any of them have been desperate enough to rob or kill.
"I think about that all the time," Pearson said.
Yet she greets no one with wariness — just warmth, remembering the 23rd Psalm, again.
"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
"I go up to them and hug them," she said.
When she leaves church, Pearson frequently spends hours with dollar-store word-find puzzle books. She searches among pages of letters for phrases, content with the answers that she can find.