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Blair Holt: Gone, But Never Forgotten

Blair Holt

Ronald Holt has vowed that his son's death will not be in vain. He promised young Blair as much nearly six years ago as he ID'd his bullet-riddled body, mournfully standing over his blood-stained son’s remains and tearfully apologizing to him for not being “there to protect him.”

A longtime ranking member of the Chicago Police Department’s Gang Crimes Unit, Holt went on to become the founding chief of the CPD’s Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) division and now serves as the citywide commander of the department’s special activities unit. As the public face of the city’s numerous crime victims program, Holt works with shaken survivors in coming to cope with their fears and overcoming the many scars that remain following a crime. He and his band of beat officers travel from neighborhood to neighborhood, street corner to street corner, imploring more citizens to get involved and work with police in the preservation of their neighborhoods.  

During the scores of sermon-like motivational speeches he gives to youth each year, Holt always makes it a point of prodding and inspiring teens with the assurance the best way they can thank him and others working on their behalf is by honoring the memory of his lost son.

“I tell them ‘take the dreams of all the young innocents like Blair that have died too young and make their dreams your own,’” he said. “I tell them respect life for what it is and the realization that it is precious.”

Ronald and his wife Anne Nance-Holt, both longtime civil servants, tirelessly labored to instill those very virtues in their only son. In a tragic and harsh reminder of just how cruel and uncaring street violence can be, they now are heartlessly left to reflect on just what role all those clearly upright lessons may have played in the way their son came to behave that day.

As classes ended on May 10, 2007,  Blair Holt—an honor roll student—and several of his friends boarded a CTA bus near Julian High School, only to soon be confronted by then 17-year-old gun-wielding gang-member Michael Pace.

Without provocation or warning, Pace opened fire aboard the bus and struck five innocent students. The most critically wounded among them was 16-year-old Blair, whom witnesses say was hit while shielding a friend and fellow student.

Blair Holt was indeed his father’s son that day: willing to put himself in harm’s way to protect another. Perhaps seeking to serve notice to others who might engage in such mindless behavior, Cook County Judge Nicholas Ford sentenced a guilty-pleading Pace to 100 years behind bars. At sentencing, Pace admitted none of the victims were even his targets; that he’d been aiming at a rival gang member who somehow managed to escape unscathed.

During those same proceedings, an inconsolable Nance-Holt admonished Pace: “I loved the gift that God gave me…I guess it’s the bond and willingness to do any and everything for your child to succeed. I have never loved anyone in my life more." You have to live with what you’ve done.”

And yet, bloodied but unbowed, shaken but not broken, the Holts channeled the strength to found the Blair Holt Memorial Foundation and serve as national voices in the ongoing gun-control debate.

They also joined forces with other parents of slain children to launch the Purpose Over Pain organization, which not only aids families of crime victims in coping but also works with youngsters in developing better conflict resolution skills. Ronald Holt has also served as a community/social/political activist and as a national anti-youth/gang violence speaker.

“Absolutely, what I’m doing has everything to do with what I’ve been through personally,” Ronald Holt told EBONY of his newfound journey. “It’s not easy work; to this day, the pain is still traumatizing. Some days emotions run high, tears flow and the survivor’s guilt complex can be overwhelming. You learn to cope…and over time that morphs into simply enduring.”

All these years later, the name "Blair Holt" still holds resonance around the Julian High School campus, where current students are routinely schooled about his life and what he stood to mean to his community. During a recent assembly marking the fifth-year anniversary of the tragedy, sitting front and center among all the parents and students was Tiara Reed---the friend whom Holt shielded and pushed to safety that day. 

“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” Reed told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m so grateful to still be here.”

But, as Ronald Holt’s heartfelt admonishments demand, Reed is hoping her actions will some day come to speak much louder than just her words. While addressing the crowd, she let it me known that soon after that tragic day she enrolled and was now set to graduate from the FBI Academy. Her goal, she proclaimed, is to someday