Woman slain day after Christmas leaves young son, legacy of artistry

Dec 31, 2017
Nick Wagner
David Johns comforts his sister, Janet Harris, as she cries during a vigil for her daughter, Ebony Sheppard, in Austin on Saturday. Sheppard was killed the day after Christmas during a robbery in East Austin, police say. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Ebony Sheppard had a magnetic personality and an infectious smile.

So it was no surprise to those at the Vision of Hope AME Church on Saturday to see an outpouring of love for the 30-year-old mother who was shot and killed the day after Christmas in an East Austin robbery.

“God sent us a gift, we unwrapped that gift and we had her for 30 years,” her father, Michael Sheppard, told the gathering of about 100 people. “But she is moving on.”

Ebony Sheppard’s death ended what appeared to be a string of violent robberies on Monday and Tuesday that Austin police have connected to 19-year-old Xavier Lewis, who has been charged with capital murder.

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Patrick Walz, the father of Sheppard’s 4-year-old son, said she had a love of horror movies — something she and her son shared. Walz described Sheppard as a talented makeup artist who created special-effects makeup that rivaled the work of Hollywood professionals.

Sheppard’s art included turning dolls bought from a thrift store into popular horror characters like Pennywise the clown and the Babadook. She was also a member of the Austin Horror Society, whose many members posted tributes to Sheppard on the group’s Facebook page.

Janet Harris, Sheppard’s mother, told the crowd that Sheppard was a “miracle baby,” who became her best friend and told Harris everything.

“The person who did this, if he could see this — all the wonderful people in her life — I don’t think he would have done this,” Harris said.

Walz said that Sheppard’s legacy will live on in her son. A website through GoFundMe has raised more than $7,000 to help support her son as of Saturday.

“When something like this happens, you look at what is left, and it is that little boy,” Walz said. “She loved everyone here. She loved her son. And we love her.”

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Lewis faces not only the murder charge in Sheppard’s killing but also six charges of aggravated robbery, Travis County Jail records show. His bail has been set at more than $1.6 million.

Despite being fitted with an ankle monitor as a condition for being released from jail on a 2016 robbery charge, Lewis is accused of shooting three people, including Sheppard. He also could be connected with a vehicle robbery in which a person was run over, police said. According to an arrest affidavit, Lewis has confessed to shooting Sheppard in a crime that many at the vigil described as a senseless killing.

One person held a poster that said “Stop this crime,” while another held one that said “Fight for Ebony.”

Pastor Mark Washington, who also is an assistant city manager for the city of Austin, spoke of a national epidemic of gun violence.

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During the vigil, Walz used a lighted candle, symbolizing the loss of Sheppard, to light seven more candles for those killed everyday by gun violence. Those were then used to light dozens of candles held by members of the congregation and neighbors at the East Austin church.

“As we share our faith and our light and our prayers, it begins to affect others,” Washington said.

Sheppard’s funeral is set for 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 at the Grant African Methodist Episcopalian Worship Center at 1701 Kramer Lane.