Two days before from her birthday, Rhonda Johnson sighed.
“There’s no telling what he might have done,” Johnson said. “I hate the thought of it coming without Jaece. I already know, he was coming through for his mother … that’s just who he was.”
On April 15, Jaece Stroud was shot and killed at the age of 23. That day, he and a friend left Stroud’s Norco home to attend a party in LaPlace. At approximately 10:15 that night, police arrived at the party, responding to a report of a shooting. Stroud was shot multiple times during an altercation with another man at the party, and declared dead at the scene.
Jacobi Cage, who was a friend and former football teammate of Stroud at Destrehan High School, was arrested following the shooting and has been charged with second degree murder by a grand jury. The case has not yet gone to trial.
“Jaece was such a good person and genuine person … I think that’s what hurt the most,” Johnson said. “That … how do you get so mad at somebody to want to hurt them? I think maybe it was a jealousy thing. Jaece took everyone under his wing. Everyone took to Jaece. That’s what’s so ironic about all of this.”
Stroud’s name was well known to prep football fans – he was a leader and standout producer at defensive end for Destrehan, an All-District performer and All-State honorable mention. He is a member of the DHS graduating class of 2017.
“One of his friends told me, ‘I don’t know if we’ll ever gonna all get together now, because Stroud was the one who always used to get us together,’” Johnson said.
But off of the field is where those who knew Stroud say he shined the brightest.
“He was a leader,” said Stroud’s uncle, Clyde Taylor. “He took guys under his wing and anyone who asked for something, he’d do his best to help out, no matter who it was. He treated people the way he’d want to be treated. A lot of times, you never even had to ask – if he saw you needed help with something, there he was.”
Johnson called Taylor an “uncle-slash-dad” to Stroud.
“He was like a son to me … he was also my fishing buddy,” Taylor said. “He was loving … kind, respectful and he was always smiling, always. When he was killed, it just shocked this family, disrupted this family on both the emotional and spiritual side. When you lose someone like that, it’s so, so hard.
“I wake up sometimes, and find my wife crying. I go down the hall and see the sadness on my daughter’s face, see my son and I have to keep talking to him and praying with him because he’s so angry. Jaece’s little cousins, they’re so angry right now. Everyone is really having a hard time with this.”
Johnson recalled the night she heard the unthinkable.
“It was a lot,” Johnson said. “It was just a shock in one way, but I was numb in another way. I went numb automatically. I don’t like to think about it … he was my angel.”
Following his death, Johnson learned more about her son, the good deeds he did and the people whose lives he touched.
“There was the grandmother of a boy who no longer lives around here, and she said Jaece would come check up on her to make sure she had gotten to the store, things like that,” Johnson said. “Just little things like that, so many things people tell me to say Jaece touched their lives. It had me in awe, the things I didn’t know about my child. I know what he did for myself and his brother. He was a protector and he was always one call away.”
Taylor concurred with the protector description.
“He loved his mother so much,” Taylor said. “He was taking care of his mother … anything he could ever do to make her smile, he was going to do just that. It’s the kind of kid he was.”
Taylor spoke by phone with Stroud about two days before the shooting, and the two had a heart-to-heart.
“I told Jaece, it’s time you stop riding around with those young men and you find yourself a lady and ride with her,” Taylor said. “And he told me, ‘You know, I was thinking the same thing.’ I never, ever thought that would be the last time I spoke with him.
“It was like somebody took a part of my body away from me, when they took Jaece’s life … he was growing up to be a real, real beautiful young man that any father, any father would want to have as a son.”
Stroud’s family hopes to soon establish a scholarship fund for youths in the community who embody the spirit and leadership he was known for during his life, one that ended far too soon.
The healing process has been ongoing since that tragic April night. Johnson, a bus driver for St. Charles Parish schools, has taken sabbatical from the job as she’s mourned Stroud’s loss. For her, and the rest of Stroud’s family and close friends, it will take time.
“Deep inside, I still feel lost,” Johnson said. “Every day it hurts … I keep going by the grace of God. Jaece was my left arm. He was always right there, and he was a giver.”
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