Not getting a nightly message from her dad was a strange thing for Delaney Anderson.
After all, the mix of a special father-daughter relationship and his job as a sergeant in the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Department was the perfect reason to make sure there was regular late-night contact.
So on the night of March 18, 2017, when her phone didn’t buzz within the normal regular timeframe, Delaney Anderson knew something was different.
Tragically, Anderson’s intuition was correct and her life, along with those of her mom Becky and younger brother Breland, were irrevocably changed.
Sgt. Shawn Anderson, an 18-year veteran of the EBRSO, was investigating a reported rape at a barber shop late that night of March 18, 2017. During what was another heroic effort by a man revered by his peers, Anderson was fatally shot.
Instead of the phone call that his daughter and avowed daddy’s girl was so used to receiving, she instead got the news no child wants to hear.
“He would call me every night before I would go to sleep, or he would text me that he was going on a call,” said Delaney Anderson, now a junior at Walker High School, a veteran on the Lady Cats’ basketball and track and field teams. “He normally would call me at around 11 at night to tell me goodnight, but he didn’t that night, so I thought it was weird, but I just figured he must’ve just been on a call.
“I was at a friend’s house, and we were all just laying around watching a movie. My friend’s mom came upstairs and said, ‘Delaney we’ve got to go to the hospital. Your mom is really upset right now.’ I didn’t know if it was my grandfather or my brother. I didn’t even think about something being wrong with my dad.
"Then I started thinking about it could be him and I asked, ‘Was it my dad?’ and for a minute she went silent. She finally said yes, but she couldn’t tell me what happened. We were driving down the highway and we pull up and a million things are going through my head. In my mind I never thought he would get shot because he was my dad.”
Shawn Anderson was well-known in area law enforcement circles for several notable incidents, including the delivery of a baby on the side of the highway the previous year. Like most dads to most daughters, he just seemed invincible to Delaney Anderson.
This time, though, he wasn’t.
“When we pulled up and I looked out the window, my heart just broke,” Anderson said. “It just clicked that he had been shot and it was bad. My grandmother had just pulled up at the same time as we did, and all these people surrounded us. I saw blue lights everywhere. I go into the hospital and my grandma is just holding onto me. My mom was just sitting there crying and said, ‘Dad died.’
“I wouldn’t accept the fact. It was just something I couldn’t process. The doctor brought us all back to the room, and the color of his skin was completely different. He had a flag draped over him. It was just something I thought I would never have to go through. I would always see this stuff on TV and I always felt so bad for those families. I never thought it would be us.”
In the horrible blink of an eye, Delaney Anderson’s life was turned upside-down.
To understand the bond between she and her father, you might’ve needed to experience a few of their car rides to and from summer basketball games or track practices.
Not short on personality or a zest for life, Shawn Anderson was bound and determined to bring those traits out in his daughter, who conceded she can be shy and too serious at times – especially when it came to athletics.
When it was dad-daughter time, shy and serious just weren’t going to work.
“What sticks out now is all the memories we shared together,” Delaney Anderson said with a smile. “The memories we have will never fade away, and they keep me going on my bad days. It’s not just the memories we had at home, it was the memories we had with my teammates. We would always get a smoothie and we would listen to music and he would sing and dance for us. That stuff reminds me of how he didn’t care who he was around. He was always himself, and that’s what I miss about him.”
There was plenty of fun, but Shawn Anderson also pushed his daughter on the court, when she was working on long-distance running -- really on anything she did.
From the time she was old enough to walk, Delaney Anderson was in motion – soccer was her first love before basketball and running moved to the forefront.
As years went by, Shawn Anderson transitioned with his daughter from simply sitting back and enjoying her moments to suggesting ways to improve to pushing her when she didn’t think she needed to be.
“Her dad was her biggest fan, but he also did all he could to stay on her to reach her potential,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said.
“Delaney has a lot of potential, but there are times when she doubts herself and she needed her dad to push her.”
No argument from Delaney Anderson, and while her dad isn’t around in body, his spirit and influence haven’t dissipated.
“His voice was always in my head even whenever he couldn’t make it to my games when he was at work, and I felt like he was still with me,” she said. “Daddy was the type of person who didn’t give up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself with my sports career. He always encouraged me to keep trying until I got to where I needed to be, and he always knew what to say to make me better as an individual. I always told myself I wanted to be like him. He never gave up. Everything he did in his life, he always knew the purpose, and that’s how I want to live my life.”
Which helps explain why and how Anderson was able to deliver a shining moment in such a cloudy portion of her young life.
When a large crowd gathered to bid farewell to Shawn Anderson, several people spoke about him. His daughter stepped completely out of character and attached the human side to her father’s legacy with a eulogy that tugged at the heartstrings of anybody who heard it.
With her brother by her side, Delaney Anderson told the familiar stories of how Shawn Anderson could make her and her brother laugh when they were down and about the dances like nobody was watching, even if they were.
Delaney Anderson spoke from the depths of a broken heart.
“I was physically broken for the first few days after he died,” she said. “At the hospital, I saw them rolling him out to the car to bring him to the funeral home and it still didn’t seem real.
“I’ve always had stage fright, but I knew that was going to be my final chance to say good-bye. I found something in me that he would’ve pushed me to do. I was nervous, but I just shook it off because I was talking about him, and I could talk about him all day. I was crying when I wrote the speech, but I know that he would’ve loved it.”
Added Becky Anderson, an instructional specialist at Levi Milton Elementary, "The whole situation is one neither of my kids should have to experience, but in true Shawn Anderson fashion, we are moving on for him.
"Delaney is a tough young lady -- so much like her daddy."
Besides the emotional impact of her speech, the eulogy revealed to Arnold something about Delaney Anderson’s courage and fortitude.
“I have no idea how she got up and spoke about her dad the way she did,” he said. “It inspired me because I saw something in her that you love to see in any young kid you are around. And I think it inspired her teammates and friends, too. They hadn’t let her be alone for very long that whole time leading up to the funeral and for several weeks afterward because of the person she is and how important she is to them. That’s something that, as a coach and teacher, tells you a lot about the kids you work with.”
Since then, to honor Shawn Anderson’s memory Arnold has paid the simplest tribute by remaining himself when he coaches Delaney Anderson.
Arnold is well-known for not holding anything back with his players, goading them, barking at them, pushing them, taking whatever angle or path he can to draw the most out of them. It’s an old-school style that a lot of new-age coaches avoid, but Arnold has made sure to stay true to himself when he coaches Delaney Anderson.
She wouldn’t want things any other way.
“He’s never given up on me whenever I wanted to give up on myself,” she said. “He always picked me up when I was sad. I’ll have moments during games when I get down and think about my daddy, and Coach will tell me I have to get through it – think of what he would like for me to be doing.”
Those thoughts won’t ever be very far away from Delaney Anderson’s mind. Her father’s impact was too deep. Profoundly deep.
Tragedies leave scars. How somebody deals with the constant reminder of pain and heartache defines how the rest of their lives play out. For Delaney Anderson, the scars are simply reminders of who her father was in life and who he will always be to her.
“I’m not going to lie: It’s the hardest thing to deal with when I know I won’t see him sitting where he used to always be,” she said.
“It’s hard, and I have my moments during games when I struggle because I’m not used to it yet. I don’t think I will ever process how he is not here physically watching, screaming, cheering me on and my teammates, making the parents laugh, doing silly things when he worked in the concession stand. It’s all different now. But I know that he wouldn’t want me to stop everything I’ve worked hard for just because he is not here. He wouldn’t want me to put my life on hold.
“I haven’t really thought about the future, but I’m playing for him right now and running for him. Some things are just hard to think about, like graduation, college, my wedding. Losing my daddy has changed me a lot and made me realize that family is more important than anything in life besides God.”