Maria Meloni admits that raising her son, 19-year-old Chase Spridgen, came with challenges.
“He’s a good kid, and he’s respectful,” she said during an April 11 interview. “On the other hand, he acts tough, but it’s just to protect himself.”
Spridgen was 17 on the night he and Dion Rankin, then 20, were at a 14-year-old’s birthday party in a home on Fox Street near Progress Park in Littleton. They ended up fighting with Da Von Flores and others. Spridgen and Rankin left, but returned with guns. Rankin shot Flores, 18, dead in the street; Robert Placa, then 18, shot Spridgen. Spridgen nearly died, spending the next 35 days in the hospital before being arrested at home.
Meloni says the bullet went through her son’s stomach and intestines, leading to myriad infections. He was still hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and walking with a cane when the police took him to jail, she said.
On April 7, Spridgen was sentenced to six years in Arapahoe County’s Youthful Offender System, a medium-security prison for 14- to 19-year-old defendants who have been tried as adults. If he cannot succeed in the program, he’ll go to prison for the remainder of the 18 years.
“I’m upset, but I’m also relieved,” said Meloni. “Maybe at YOS he can get the structure I couldn’t give him.”
Meloni says the troubles began after her son got jumped coming home from seventh grade at Moody Elementary School. Before that, he was an honor-roll student with interests in football and psychology.
“He stopped trying because he felt like a nerd, and he didn’t want to be a nerd,” she said. “His brain, I just don’t know how to explain it.”
After that, she began finding knives in the laundry. Then he starting experimenting with drugs, and she noticed he started wearing a lot of red.
“I don’t know if he was affiliated with a gang,” she said. “I think they’re wannabe gangs. I have a different image in my head of what a real gang would be, like in Los Angeles, and these were just kids.”
At one point, Spridgen stole her car and led police on a chase down Santa Fe Drive.
“The police have had his number for a long time,” said Meloni.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with depression.
“He said, `There’s nothing wrong with my brain,’ and he refused to take any medications,” she said.
She looked into private programs, but the single mom couldn’t afford them on the salary she made as a home health-care provider.
“I tried, I tried to get him in, but it’s like pulling teeth,” she said. “So I just would wait until they came and arrested him, hoping he could get help that way. But this … I told him he was going to end up getting shot. I asked him why he was drinking and getting high and stuff, and he said that’s what everybody is doing in Littleton. And I said, `You’re just hanging around the wrong crowd.’”
She forbade him to associate with certain of his friends, particularly the older ones like Rankin, but he ignored her. She thinks he was looking for a father figure, having never really gotten to know his own dad. The father was a drinker, says Meloni, and she left him when Spridgen was just four months old.
“I wasn’t tough enough on Chase,” she said. “And by the time I tried to be, it was just like a joke. … I didn’t know what to do about it, so they just say I’m a bad mother. I’m not a bad mother. I did the best I could.”
She’s frustrated that the young man who shot her son only got six months of home detention, especially since her son didn’t shoot anyone. She notes that witnesses said Placa and Flores brought guns with them to the party, and Spridgen and Rankin actually left the party to go get theirs after seeing the others flashing theirs around.
“I don’t think my son got any justice, but I think the YOS will be good for him,” she said.
Spridgen has spent some of his time in jail earning his high-school diploma, and Meloni said he’s been attending church. He lives with nerve damage as a result of the shooting.
“I hope that he’ll learn from experience,” she said. “I want to have grandkids. I want to see him get married and be happy. I told him, `You can be whatever you want to be, but if you want to be a thug, goodbye.’”