Nearly two weeks shy of her college graduation, DeEbony Groves was gunned down at a Waffle House in Nashville. The 21-year-old woman had completed all of the requirements for a degree in social work from Belmont University. But on Saturday, the accomplishment was bittersweet as her mother walked across the stage and accepted the diploma in her daughter’s place, according to CNN.
Shirl Baker was presented with DeEbony’s degree by Belmont University president Robert Fisher. Prior to calling her name, Fisher acknowledged the “unimaginable loss,” but vowed to celebrate the young woman’s life as a community.
The university president also announced that the institution had plans to re-name its social work scholarship after DeEbony to ensure that her legacy lives on while providing “financial support and encouragement to generations of social work majors at Belmont University.” As Baker accepted her daughter’s diploma, she received a standing ovation.
DeEbony’s brother, DiAngelo, was also present at the ceremony. He was there to not only celebrate his fallen sister’s life and accomplishments, but DiAngelo graduated from Belmont as well. Prior to hearing his name called, the young man became visibly emotional and wiped tears from his eyes. Baker comforted her son as he realized that this was a moment that he and his sister were supposed to share.
During that April 22 mass shooting, a gunman took the lives of four people. Travis Reinking, 23, has been arrested and charged with four counts of criminal homicide in the deaths of Groves, her friend Akilah DaSilva, Joe R. Perez, and Waffle House employee Taureen C. Sanderlin. Groves and DaSilva were friends and died while singing gospel songs, including “Jesus Loves Me.”
Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer attended Groves’ and Sanderlin’s funerals, which were held on the same day. He offered words of comfort to the Groves family and noted that their faith and the strength of the community would help them all get through this difficult time together.
CNN reported that Reinking is said to have a history of mental illness which likely explained why he committed the heinous act armed with an assault rifle and while wearing only a coat. The suspect also faces four charges of attempted murder and one count of unlawful gun possession. Reinking was originally being held on a $2 million bond, which has since been revoked.