Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

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Memories linger for victim’s mother

Lillie Bolden vividly remembers Aug. 26, 1990, the day before her son was shot and killed at school.

She remembers that 16-year-old Donnie Lee Bolden had bought new clothes, including a pair of black Nikes.

She remembers that her son, who fancied himself a barber, had trimmed the hair of his friends. He'd cut his own hair, too, down to the scalp.

She also remembers an odd, eerie afterthought that flew in and out of her mind that day.

"He cut off all the hair from the back of his head, and I remember thinking, 'I hope no one shoots him in the back of his bald head,'" Bolden said.

The next day, her son was shot in the neck in the crowded Eldorado High School cafeteria about 7:15 a.m., just minutes before the first bell on the first day of school.

In the history of Clark County, several shootings have occurred on or near school grounds. In March 1982, Clarence Piggott, a popular Valley High School teacher, was fatally shot by Patrick Lizotte, one of his students.

Donnie Lee Bolden, then a junior, was -- and still is -- the only student to die in a school-day shooting at a Clark County school.

But Lillie Bolden remembers her son for much more than that.

He loved to eat, she said matter-of-factly during an interview at her West Las Vegas home. He listened to rap. He was working at Wendy's.

Donnie Bolden talked a lot about wanting to save enough money for a car, but he never talked about a career or life after high school, his mother said. So she doesn't know what her son would be today, except 24 years old.

"I can't help but think about it all the time," she said. "I just go on day by day. He was my one and only child, my baby."

Police have said that Bolden was a gang member and that the shooting was gang-related. Several dozen youths of rival street gangs began flashing gang signs and then fighting just before the shooting, according to witnesses.

Bolden was hit by one bullet and died several hours later at University Medical Center.

Sophomore Curtis Collins later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the shooting. Collins is still serving a life sentence in the Nevada State Prison. He is eligible for parole in 2000.

Lillie Bolden said the pain of the tragedy has diminished but not disappeared. Images of that day are still fresh.

Bolden rushed to the school with her cousin after her niece and one of Donnie's friends beat police to the telephone with the news. At Eldorado, they were greeted by two girls, each holding one of Donnie's shoes.

"It was those black Nikes," she said.

Someone at the scene told her his last words were, "Mama, I can't breathe. I love you, mama."

Bolden also remembers that in a surreal scene at the hospital later that morning, she watched television news reports about the incident as she waited for more answers.

"I just kept saying, 'What? What?' My only baby. He was only 16 years old."

Bolden said her son was trying to protect a friend in the fight when he was shot. She said her son and Collins had fought in the past.

She said she knows that her son, who school officials said had several citations for fighting and insubordination, was far from perfect.

"He was not in no gang," Bolden said of her son. "But you mess with him, he'd kick (up) a fight. He was a big ol' boy."

School officials who were around at the time remember the shooting, too. Superintendent Brian Cram said the incident steeled the resolve of district officials to prevent another fatal shooting.

"I guess everyone knows the potential for things to happen," Cram said. "But we'd never had an event in our district before. We realize that if some kid had a grievance and wanted to look for some other kid, that was difficult to prevent. But my answer was, if I had my way, never again."

Richard Paulin, now retired from the district, was principal at Eldorado at the time of the shooting. He was in the cafeteria when it happened.

Paulin said the fatal shootings that have occurred this year nationwide have brought back some memories.

"You don't forget about it, but you don't dwell on it," Paulin said.

Paulin said he didn't know Donnie Bolden, but he remembers the shooting.

"It had been an ongoing thing between those two, or those two groups, during the summer," Paulin said. "The impact on the school was that the students couldn't believe it happened at a school like the one we had."

Paulin said there was surprisingly little discussion of the shooting the following day.

"It was one of those things ... it can happen anywhere."

Mark Schofield, then School Board president, said the shooting had a "chilling effect" on everyone at the time.

"Can something like that be prevented?" Schofield asked. "We can only hope."

Lillie Bolden said she hopes that the people of Clark County will remember how her son died and will take the issue of guns in schools seriously. She hoped no other students will die in gunfire at school.

"I don't like to talk about it," Bolden said. "But I think about it all the time."