Lawsuit seeks damages from Boys & Girls Club in connection to 2015 Varnell murder-suicide

Melissa Ball & her son Grayden were killed in April, 2015, at the hands of Grayden's father, Eric Whitmore, at a gas station in Varnell. (Image courtesy of Ball's family)

The family of a woman and her son who were killed by the boy's father before he killed himself in April, 2015 is suing the Boys & Girls Club of America (BCGA) and the local chapter Boys & Girls Club of Gordon, Murray & Whitfield Counties (BGCGMW).

The lawsuit filed this week in Whitfield County Superior Court claims BGCGMW employees released Grayden Whitmore to the custody of his father, Eric Whitmore, against the wishes of Grayden's mother, Melissa Ball on April 23rd, 2015. Later that same evening, police say Eric called Melissa to pick up her son at a gas station in Varnell, where he then shot Grayden, then Melissa, then himself.

It was a crime that shocked the small community of Varnell.

Grayden's aunt, Miranda Ball, filed the lawsuit on her family's behalf. It seeks an unspecified amount of damages for burial costs, compensatory damages, and damages for loss of enjoyment of life and mental anguish.

The lawsuit claims that two BGCGMW workers released Grayden to Eric on the day they died, even though they were aware that Melissa had expressly told them not to do so. The lawsuit says Melissa and Eric had been separated after years of a contentious marriage, and that Eric had committed domestic violence and abuse against both Melissa and Grayden for years.

The lawsuit claims one of those BGCGMW workers, Lori Crider, was in a relationship with Eric at the time of their deaths, and was aware that he and Melissa had not been getting along for months.

It goes on to say on April 18th, in the week before the shootings, Grayden spent the night with his father, and returned the next day and tried to commit suicide, because, the lawsuit claims, he had again been subjected to abuse at the hands of his father. Melissa then committed Grayden to a mental health facility for three days.

On April 23rd, the lawsuit claims Melissa told Crider about Grayden's suicide attempt, and instructed her not to release the child to Eric's custody. The lawsuit points out the regulations involved for BGCGMW when it comes to releasing children, which includes a provision that the custodial parent may specify who can and cannot pick up their child, including the child's other parent if warranted.

Later that day, the lawsuit says Eric showed up to the center. The lawsuit claims Crider noticed he was wearing different clothes than his typical work clothes, and that he was armed, and completely silent.

The lawsuit claims that despite noticing this aberrant behavior in Eric, and despite the instructions from Melissa earlier in the day, Crider released Grayden to Eric. It claims Crider later sent Eric a text saying she was glad he seemed happy. But the lawsuit claims that Crider failed to notify her superiors or police that Eric had a firearm on school grounds.

The other BGCGMW employee named in the lawsuit, Tiffany Crowder, reportedly also knew about Melissa and Eric's troubles, and was aware that Melissa was trying to keep Grayden from being with Eric, but did nothing to prevent Eric from leaving with the child.

After leaving the center, Eric contacted Melissa, saying he had Grayden. The lawsuit says, "Melissa had been avoiding Eric, and Eric used the child as bait to get her to meet him."

Melissa complied, and met him at the gas station, where he shot Grayden, shot Melissa, and then turned the gun on himself.

Read the full lawsuit below:

This is a developing story. Depend on us to bring you updates on this lawsuit as it works its way through the court system.

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