March 18, 2022

‘When the evening comes, you will be examined on love’

To honor their son’s life, parents strive to change the world, one person at a time

A painting of Jack Shockley has a prominent place in the home of his parents, Steve and Cheryl Shockley—a constant reminder of his smile that touched their family’s life with so much joy. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

A painting of Jack Shockley has a prominent place in the home of his parents, Steve and Cheryl Shockley—a constant reminder of his smile that touched their family’s life with so much joy. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The smiles and laughs have returned in this moment for Steve and Cheryl Shockley, pushing back the heartbreak and the horror of what happened to their youngest child.

Cheryl’s eyes dance in delight and laughter pours from her as she recalls the mother-son ritual that she shared with Jack when he returned home during his breaks as a student at Indiana University in Bloomington.

“One of my delights was when he came home from college for Christmas or whatever,” she says. “We both loved films, and Jack and I would always go to the action movies, like Mission Impossible. We’d go to Landmark [Keystone Art Cinema in Indianapolis] and get a bottle of wine and a couple of big things of popcorn. We watched two movies and had lunch in between. We had a blast.”

Joy fills Steve’s face as he recalls taking Jack as a youth to Butler University men’s basketball games at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. There, the father and son had good times together, meeting up with some of Steve’s friends.

“He loved hearing the old men talk,” Steve says with a smile. “He learned some things about me in high school and as a younger man. It was one way that we changed our relationship into more of a friendship than a father-son relationship. He once tweeted a picture of me and him at Hinkle together.”

The joy of Jack’s life—and the joy of having Jack in their lives—lingers in their smiles in that moment.

It’s a moment that offers a glimpse into everything that Jack’s parents, his two siblings, his extended family, his closest friends, his parish and a large community have been striving to do in the past 19 months.

To keep Jack’s joy alive in their hearts.

To honor his life by trying to live the way Jack strived to live.

To not let the horror and heartbreak of what happened on Aug. 12, 2020, end Jack’s story but continue it with the faith and love that marked his life.

‘It was so hard’

On that August morning, Jack followed his workday routine of stopping for a breakfast sandwich at the McDonald’s restaurant at 25th Street and Emerson Avenue on the east side of Indianapolis. From there, the 24-year-old, 2014 graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis would usually drive two blocks to the Green Bean Delivery business for his 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift. But he never made it out of the McDonald’s parking lot that morning.

“There’s surveillance tape of a car that backed into the space next to him,” Steve says. “It was an attempted robbery. Why it turned into a murder I don’t know. Jack did nothing to escalate the situation. It was senseless.”

Cheryl adds these details shared by police: that Jack was shot and killed shortly after 5 a.m., that he died within five seconds, that his body wasn’t discovered in his car until 9 a.m.—when a McDonald’s employee, who knew Jack as a regular customer, noticed his car was still there and Jack was lifeless inside it.

The employee phoned police, and six hours later, a deputy coroner called Steve’s cell phone and asked, “Are you the father of John David Shockley? We’re looking for the next of kin of John David Shockley.”

Heartbreak only begins to describe the pain that Jack’s parents and his two older siblings, Grace and Peter, felt.

“I just kept saying I want to see his body, and we couldn’t see his body because it was a criminal case,” Cheryl says through her tears. “I’m his mother. I wanted to be with him, and I couldn’t. That traumatized me. Then when we did see him, it was so hard.”

As their world shattered around the Shockleys, their friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners at Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis rushed to support them, including the pastor, Father Todd Riebe.

“Our neighbors were all congregating and praying,” Cheryl recalls. “We were beyond ourselves, holding onto each other. Father Todd came, and he was so amazing to us.”

Overwhelmed by a flood of shock and sorrow, Cheryl asked Father Riebe, “Father, how do we do this?! What do we do?!”

“He gave us our marching orders,” Cheryl recalls. “He said, ‘Cheryl, Steve, one step at a time.’ And that became our family motto. When it got so overwhelming, we just took the next step, and it really helped.”

‘When the evening comes, you will be examined on love’

The steps have included holding onto each other through the hardest time of their lives. The Shockleys have especially worked hard—individually and as a family—to not let the story of Jack’s life be defined by his death.

Instead, they strive against their never-far-away heartbreak to remember the joy of Jack, the heart of Jack, the love of Jack—and to use those qualities to help change their part of the world and even themselves.

The catalyst for that change is an effort called Jack Shockley’s Warriors for Peace. Yet before the focus turns to that effort, there’s another insight into Jack’s life that needs to be shared.

That insight appears on the website www.warriors4peace.org, in a section called “About Jack” that was written by his parents. It begins with describing him as a peacemaker and continues, “Jack had the ability to bring together people from different walks of life and different points of view. He was thoughtful, generous and kind, with a heart for the poor and disadvantaged.

“He had a strong sense of right and wrong and spoke up when he saw injustice. Jack had a steadfast faith in God and was inspired by the writings of his namesake, St. John of the Cross, who wrote: ‘When the evening comes, you will be examined on love.’ ”

Those 10 words form the approach, the essence of Jack Shockley’s Warriors for Peace.

“It’s all about growing in love,” Cheryl says. “It starts within our own heart. We’ve been through that journey with our family being shattered and just starting their way over. I’m at that place of love again. I think that’s the ultimate message of Warriors for Peace—am I growing in love? Is this action a loving action?”

Changing lives, one person at a time

The beginning of Warriors for Peace blossomed from a loving action.

“After Jack died, a month or so afterward, my sister and brother-in-law in California reached out and said they wanted to donate money to do whatever we were called to do to help keep Jack’s memory alive. They were most generous,” Steve says. “So we knew we had this opportunity, and we really didn’t know what to do.”

Searching for ideas to honor Jack, they scheduled a meeting in the fall of 2020 with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and Msgr. William Stumpf, vicar general of the archdiocese and a family friend who had baptized Jack.

“Monsignor had the brilliance to say, ‘It’s too complicated, it’s too overwhelming. Maybe you should think of changing one life at a time,’ ” Steve says.

The Shockleys loved that thought, believing it was the best way to honor Jack, who tried to touch people’s lives one person at a time.

They used that phrase as they shaped the mission of Jack Shockley’s Warriors for Peace: “to oppose the evil of gun violence by promoting positive change, one life at a time.”

They also used those words to guide the two main goals they have for Warriors for Peace.

The first is to provide scholarships to help “grade-school graduates from our city’s least privileged parishes—students who use their unique gifts to promote peace—to complete their Catholic education through high school.”

To fulfill that goal, the Shockleys created the Jack Shockley Peacemaker Scholarship Fund, established with the archdiocese’s Catholic Community Foundation.

The second goal is to encourage anyone who will listen to “promote peace and oppose gun violence by aiding the families of its victims and raising awareness of its devastating consequences.”

To honor Jack’s life, his parents are trying to change a world that led to his death. It’s a world where Indianapolis broke a record in 2020 with 215 criminal homicides or murders. It’s a world where that record was shattered with 249 murders in the city in 2021.

Their efforts to make a difference have also changed them in a powerfully personal way.

A walk of faith with other mothers

“I was blasted into a new world when Jack was murdered,” Cheryl says about how she has become much more aware—and angry—about “the injustice of what’s going on in our inner-city.”

“There’s a lot of drug addiction and violence, but there’s also so many people who are just trying to raise their family. I can’t tell you how much energy mothers spend trying to keep their sons especially—and their daughters, but their sons especially—alive and safe. And it just takes one moment, one bullet, and all of their work, all of their heart and soul … .”

Her voice trails off for a moment before she continues, “The energy that it takes to bring up a child in poverty is something that I hope we can make our community more aware of. The eyes to see and the will to see. I hope we grow in knowledge and understanding.”

Cheryl has grown connected to a support group of mothers who have lost children to gun violence in the inner-city of Indianapolis. As part of that connection, Warriors for Peace offers financial help to families who are suffering. At the same time, Cheryl leans upon her emotional connection with the women who share her heartbreak.

“There’s a group chat. You shoot something out, and you’re covered in prayer,” she says. “These women know how to pray. It’s a faith walk with other mothers.”

Her walk of faith since Jack’s death has once again led her to the roots of her Catholic faith—to the cross of Christ.

“Monsignor Stumpf told me to stay at the foot of the cross and say my yes—that’s how I’ll get through this,” she says. “I believe that all the blood that’s being spilled everywhere with these murders is united with Jack’s blood at the foot of the cross, and through that power change will come.

“It’s all about the glory of God, and that’s where change will come.”

That belief has connected Christ the King Parish with inner-city churches of different denominations. Members of the parish and the churches committed to a 24-hour fast—once a week for seven weeks—to show their unity in opposing gun violence.

“It was beautiful,” Cheryl says. “Things like that will make a difference, bringing communities of faith together.”

There have also been the faith-filled efforts to keep their family together.

‘I see the whole thing in the context of souls being lost’

Among the realities of life are that people grieve in different ways, and the grief over the loss of a child can test any marriage.

“I miss my son,” Steve says. “It takes you places you don’t want to go. And not everybody goes to the same place. It’s a lot of work in pulling yourselves together. So we’ve done some of that work. Not all of it. But we’re very together.”

Cheryl adds, “We’ve all been in so much therapy to get through it. Steve and I—I think the only way we made it—we went into marital therapy with, ‘OK, we are not going to get a divorce. We have 35 years in this. We’re not going to get a divorce.’ But, boy, you can see how it happens. It’s just too much suffering—and not knowing how to enter into the other person’s suffering.

“For months, I felt like I was being stabbed in my heart. And it’s still hard for me. To me, that’s where Jesus is—in my heart. I’ve always had this relationship with Jesus in my heart, and then my heart was just so broken. I mean, really physical brokenness. Now, I can breathe into my heart again. Steve and I are doing very well. I think we’re going to be better. I think we are better.”

Another reality of life is that people don’t approach the possibility of forgiveness in the same way. A man has been arrested in Jack’s murder, but he hasn’t gone to trial yet.

“It’s between him and God,” Steve says. “To me, it’s important that he be held accountable, so he doesn’t hurt anybody else. But I’m not going to waste my emotional energy in whether he’s going to be prosecuted. I don’t want my happiness to depend upon that.”

Cheryl knows she comes from a different perspective than her family.

“I care very, very much about what happens to him,” she says about the man who killed Jack. “Because I see the whole thing in the context of souls being lost. And I believe his soul is very, very important. And that the biggest glory that could ever happen to Jack is for [this man] to come to God. And for him to be with Jack ultimately.

“That is what I pray for every day. And I pray for all the shooters. This is what the mothers do. We pray that whoever is going to pick up that gun that day will not shoot. That it is as harmful for them as it is for the person who is shot, ultimately, eternally.”

Thoughts of eternity lead Cheryl to focus on Jack again.

‘Remember you will die. Remember to live’

“He lived a very full, happy life, and it should be celebrated,” she says. “It should be honored. Remember how glorious it is. I wanted him to be a priest, and look at him—he’s right there with God. And as long as I hang onto that, as long as I remember that … .”

Instead of finishing that thought with words, she completes it by referring to a necklace that Jack’s roommate found in Jack’s room after his death.

Cheryl says the inscription on the medal part of Jack’s necklace “speaks to who he was and how he lived his life.”

The inscription in Latin reads, “Memento mori. Memento vivere.”

“Remember you will die. Remember to live.”

“We put that on his tombstone,” Cheryl says. “He did it. He lived every moment of his life.”

At one point, Steve says, “We have maybe made him sound a little more saintly than he was. He was a normal, 24-year-old guy.”

Still, Jack’s mom sees a connection between her son and another young man who died at 24. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was an Italian who weaved his Catholic faith with his love of mountain climbing, taking his friends on hikes and leading them in prayers and conversations about their faith.

“He said whoever gets to heaven first will bring everybody else along,” Cheryl says. “I see Jack doing that for his friends and his family. He’s there first, and he’s going to bring us all with him. That’s what he’s going to do for us. That’s what he’s doing. He’s spending his heaven helping, doing good. And he is.

“We’ve got Jack in our corner.”

Steve smiles and adds, “He’s my only shot.”

Cheryl is smiling, too.

The joy of Jack, the heart of Jack, the love of Jack is with them now—and always.
 

(To learn more about Jack Shockley’s Warriors for Peace or to become involved in its efforts, visit the website www.warriors4peace.org. There will be a golf outing and a silent auction to raise funds for Jack Shockley’s Warriors for Peace on May 13. Check the website for registration. For more information or to contribute to The Jack Shockley Peacemaker Scholarship Fund, contact Kim Pohovey in the archdiocese’s Stewardship and Development Office at kpohovey@archindy.org or at 317-236-1568.)

 

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