Jeremy “Doddy” Hilliard

April 5, 2014 – April 10, 2014

Jeremy Hilliard, also affectionately referred to as “Doddy,” passed away on April 10, 2014, just five days after his 23rd birthday.

Jeremy is survived by his devoted mother, Helen Hilliard-Riley; his youngest sister, Meka P. Hilliard; his middle sister, Schlon, whom everyone affectionately calls “Cola”; his oldest sister, LaTonya, called Tonya by loved ones; and Patrick Jr., his only brother and oldest sibling. Jeremy also left behind five nieces and nephews whom he adored. In addition to leaving behind a loving family, Jeremy left behind an enduring legacy and cherished memories for everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. 

Jeremy Hilliard holding a fish as a toddler

Jeremy holding a fish as a child.

Jeremy Hilliard was born at Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on April 5th, 1991, the same birthplace as his three older siblings. He was a large baby, entering the world at almost 11 pounds. He was a beautiful ball of joy whom his family immediately fell in love with. He was the youngest child born into the Hilliard family and became the most beloved by all his family members, who spoiled and showered him with love and affection. He and his siblings grew up in the Garden District of Baton Rouge in a religious household, and the family regularly attended church and prayed together.

Everyone remembers Jeremy as having a jovial personality with a great sense of humor. He was the comedian of the family and a “little prankster.” Jeremy loved to play with his youngest sister, Meka, and he was very protective of his oldest sister, LaTonya. Patrick, his only brother, was Jeremy’s shadow. Jeremy looked up to him, and they spent a lot of their time together. Jeremy was very fond of his middle sister Schlon and loved his god-sister Stacie; she called him her “lil man.” As “lil man” grew up, she started calling him “Man-Man.” Jeremy was also very close to his nieces and nephews, who were close to his age. Mrs. Hilliard-Riley recalls other precious memories of Jeremy and his grandfather, who “spoiled him with donuts. His grandfather would drive from downtown Baton Rouge to Zachary, bringing Jeremy and his sister Meka fresh donuts on Saturday mornings, then take them on the lake by LSU to feed and watch the ducks.”

Hilliard Family portrait

The Hilliard Family

At the ages of six and seven, he played little league football for the Zachary Broncos. He was a sporty little kid who really enjoyed the game. Jeremy went to Zachary and Dufrocq Elementary, where his teachers showered him with praise. He went on to attend Glasgow Middle School until the 8th grade. Jeremy did not pass the exit test to move on to high school. At that point, he became very discouraged, but he didn’t let it keep him down. 

As a teenager, Jeremy became passionate about helping his family financially. He was brought up in a single-parent household, raised by his mother and three older siblings. When Jeremy and Meka were younger, his mother resigned from her full-time position and started her own business as a designer and seamstress so she could spend more time raising her children. Jeremy spent time with his mother by helping her press some of her work. He believed that it was his responsibility to help provide for his family, even though he was the youngest in the household. Mrs. Hilliard-Riley smiles and says, “Jeremy was about his money.” He began picking up jobs over the summers and eventually began working with a neighborhood contractor doing construction, learning advanced skills in roofing and bricklaying. “He always found little jobs and other programs that allowed him to make money,” Mrs. Hilliard-Riley says. His mother remembers that Jeremy was a hard worker and enjoyed the little jobs he would perform. It made him happy to be able to provide for himself financially and to help out his family when it was needed. 

Jeremy came from a loving family of home cooks and professional chefs. Jeremy developed his love of cooking by watching his mother cook meals over the years. His niece now owns a catering company, and his sister is a food truck owner. Jeremy would have been proud to watch their growth and success. Jeremy was a food critic in his own right and truly enjoyed eating delicious food. His mother was his favorite chef, and he enjoyed everything she cooked. He always showed his mother his appreciation with a smile and a heartfelt “thank you.” His mother reminisces on the last meal that he cooked for her and her friends: fried pork chops, potatoes, and sides. His family loved his cooking, and the whole family enjoyed spending time in the kitchen together. 

Jeremy shared his mother’s love of music, and they would often listen to their favorite songs together. Jeremy was raised on classic oldies like Smokie Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and other artists his mother grew to love during her younger years. Although he enjoyed listening to oldies with his mother, Jeremy most enjoyed rap and hip-hop music. He and his older siblings would listen to their favorite rap songs, and he would do the “quatt dance.” His family members lovingly called his dance “Doddy Quatt,” nicknaming him “Doddy” after his dance. 

Jeremy also enjoyed being around water. He loved to swim and join his father on fishing adventures. He was growing into a decent sport fisherman. Art was another passion of Jeremy’s. He was a gifted artist who enjoyed expressing himself through his drawings. Jeremy also enjoyed watching television and movies—his favorite TV show was “Martin.”

Jeremy was very concerned about the well-being of his mother. He would tell her all the time, “Mama, don’t stress, because stress can kill you.” He loved his mother deeply, and he hoped that he would be able to take care of her as she got older, reminding her, “I will be the one to take care of you when you get older, Mama.” His mother’s fondest memory of Jeremy occurred around Mother’s Day the year before his death. Before the holiday, she remembers that Jeremy told her that he “really wanted to buy some diamond earrings” for her for Mother’s Day. She thought it was a sweet sentiment, but she wasn’t really expecting her son to purchase diamond earrings for her. But on Mother’s Day, Jeremy and his mother went shopping, and she picked out a pair of diamond earrings that he purchased for her. It was a beautiful moment she remembers sharing with him. It wasn’t the actual diamond earrings that made her happy; it was the fact that Jeremy wanted to do this for her, and he worked so hard to make it happen. 

Speaking with Mrs. Hilliard-Riley and immediately observing how loving, generous, gentle, and kind she is, it is easy to see how Jeremy adopted the same characteristics. One word that every family member used to describe Jeremy was “protector.” Jeremy grew up to be 6’4” and weighed just over 300 pounds. He was able to diffuse situations with his size and presence alone. His sister recalls an incident where a situation between her and a guy got pretty agitated, and Jeremy was able to step in and deescalate the situation quickly without much effort. He was what people would describe as a “gentle giant.” He was protective of all his siblings, even more so with his nieces and nephews. 

Jeremy Hilliard at dinner

Jeremy Hilliard enjoying a restaurant.

The last couple years of Jeremy’s life were not the easiest. Like many people, he suffered from mental health issues. Jeremy lost his father at 21, and he struggled to cope with the loss. Jeremy worked hard to deal with the pain of losing his father, and he was a shoulder for his family to lean on as he worked on his own healing. Not long after his father’s death, he had an encounter with the police, and he was taken into custody. While in custody, his mental state worsened. He was transferred to a mental health facility in East Feliciana Parish in Jackson, Louisiana. There, he was treated over a period of months. He began taking the medication that was prescribed to him, and his mental health dramatically improved. His mother and family supported him throughout his treatment. Jeremy would write his mother brief letters and made sure to remind her to bring his favorite snacks when she came to visit. “Please don’t forget to bring my jalapeño Cheetos, honey buns with the white icing, and Coca-Cola.” He also made sure he never lost his manners and ended his letters to his mother with “I love you.”

It is not uncommon for people to make a personal choice to stop taking medication. Some do it because of unwelcome side effects, while others do it because they feel better and believe they no longer need the medication. They don’t recognize that the reason they are feeling better is because the medication is doing what it is supposed to do. After being released from the West Feliciana facility, Jeremy went through an extended period of taking his medication, which continued his mental wellbeing. His mother and family members recognized all the progress in his healing, and things were great for a while, until he believed that he no longer needed his medication. After he stopped taking his medicine for a period, his mother could see the changes in his behavior. She tried to encourage him to begin taking his medication again, but it’s difficult to force someone to do something they truly don’t want to do. 

Jeremy’s mother vividly recalls the last week of his life. Jeremy celebrated his 23rd birthday on April 5, 2014. His mother took him out to celebrate at one of his favorite restaurants. He enjoyed some of his favorite dishes and the company of his loving mother. Upon his return home, he continued to celebrate and was showered with gifts from family and friends. Two days later, on April 7th, 2014, Jeremy woke up to breakfast from his mother. She offered to make him a plate, which he declined. As the morning continued, she recognized that something was wrong. She suggested that they go somewhere, hoping that might help. Things quickly escalated and she contacted the proper authorities for her own personal safety as well as Jeremy’s. Jeremy was again taken into custody. His mother explained the situation and alerted them to the fact that he had not been taking his prescribed medication. Mrs. Hilliard-Riley felt secure in knowing that they had previously dealt with Jeremy and that they were aware of his situation. 

An officer contacted Jeremy’s mother on April 10th, 2014. He informed her that they had been attempting to get in touch with her. Initially, she assumed they were calling to give her an update on Jeremy’s status. But they were calling to tell her that her son was no longer alive after suffering a pulmonary embolism. He had been in custody for three days.  Jeremy was one of four people suffering from mental health issues who died within a six-month period in an East Baton Rouge Parish facility.

Mrs. Hilliard-Riley felt it was necessary to be as honest and transparent as possible during our conversations. Today, she continues to advocate for better mental health practices. She recognizes how important they are to a person’s well-being. She is hopeful that her beloved son’s story will help other families that are dealing with family members or friends who are currently incarcerated, as well as individuals that have lost someone while they were incarcerated. She truly hopes that Jeremy’s story will spark a movement to change our criminal justice system and provide better conditions for those who are incarcerated. She hopes his story can bring awareness to those with the power to change carceral conditions so that no other family has to endure the heartbreak and trauma of losing someone while they were incarcerated. 

Jeremy was buried on April 19th, 2014, in Port Allen, Louisiana. His memory will live on through his loved ones, through the stories of his triumphs as well as his stumbles, through his care and love for others, and by anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. 

Author: Marzellle Lund