Christmas has never been the same for Calab Luckett’s family since that fateful day in 2016. At a time when many families gather to celebrate, his loved ones were forced to plan his funeral.
Calab’s mother, Jennifer Schwartz, and his aunt, Nancy Byrd, are CNAs who work hard to provide for their families. And that year was no exception. They worked 16-hour shifts and, to make extra money for the holidays, they worked on Christmas Day. The plan was for their families to celebrate together later in the week. But they never got the chance.
“Every year, we relive the heartache,” Nancy told Dateline. “My nephew had so much life ahead of him. And it was all taken away from him in an instant.”
Calab Luckett, who lived in Evansville, Indiana, was just 18 years old when he was shot and killed on Christmas Day at Parkside Terrace, now known as Woodland Park Apartments, on Sunburst Boulevard.
Nancy told Dateline that her nephew had been visiting friends at the complex that weekend, since his mother would be working. On Christmas Eve, Calab and his mother spoke on the phone, discussing their holiday plans for later that week. It was the last time she would speak with her son.
“She’s completely broken… never been the same since that day,” Nancy said tearfully. “We both feel so much guilt about working that day. But we’re not wealthy. We struggle every day. So we were hoping that money would give our families the Christmas they deserved.”
Nancy told Dateline that both their families had struggled financially for years. Each child who graduated high school had hopes of being the one who went to college, landed a good job and helped pull their families out of poverty. Calab was one of them.
“He finished high school early and planned to go to college,” Nancy said. “He’d had his struggles and issues, but he knew he wanted to make a better life for himself. And for his family.”
But the day after Christmas, Calab’s family would receive the call that shattered their lives forever.
“His mom got a call from one of his friends who lived there,” Nancy told Dateline. “A body had been found in one of the vacant apartments. And this friend believed it could be Calab.”
Calab’s mother rushed to the scene where she ultimately ended up identifying her 18-year-old son’s body by his tattoos.
Detective Kyle Campbell with the Evansville Police Department told Dateline that Calab had been shot and killed inside the vacant apartment on December 25. His body was found the next day by a maintenance worker.
“My nephew laid there and bled out, all alone for hours,” Nancy said tearfully. “We don’t know why he was there or who lured him there, but he did not deserve to die like that.”
Detective Campbell told Dateline that he does not know why Calab was in the vacant apartment and does not know if Calab knew his killer(s).
An autopsy by the Vanderburgh County Coroner’s Office confirmed that Calab died from a single gunshot wound to the head and his death was ruled a homicide.
For years, investigators followed up on numerous tips and leads, but nothing pointed to the person who pulled the trigger.
The detective who responded to the scene, and became lead investigator on Calab’s case, has since retired. The case was then briefly transferred to another detective before finally being reassigned to Detective Campbell approximately a year and a half ago. He is hopeful he’ll be able to solve Calab’s case and bring closure to his family.
“I’ve spoken with members of Caleb’s family and have seen the heartache that they all carry with them to this day,” Det. Campbell told Dateline. “Christmas is a hard time for them. Each year around this time, people will contact the family with information or the latest rumor they’ve heard about Caleb’s death. Often it’s nothing new, but the same old stories being told over and over again. These people mean well, and think they’re helping, but they don’t get to see how it actually hurts the family and extends their grief.”
Detective Campbell told Dateline that he is following new leads in the case, but would not elaborate on details due to the investigation being open and active. But he added that if anyone is compelled to share information on Caleb’s death, he asks that they share it with law enforcement.
“My heart goes out to Caleb’s family and friends,” Det. Campbell said. “I can’t imagine what it’s been like for them and what they’ve had to go through. I hope to catch Caleb’s killer, but I recognize that is not something that I can do alone. I need the help of the community. Someone knows the truth about what happened that Christmas. We just need to talk.”
Calab’s family continues to stay in close contact with Det. Campbell and is hopeful a fresh set of eyes on the case will finally bring them closure.
Nancy created Justice for Calab Luckett, a Facebook group that shares memories and photos of Calab, while pleading for tips and information that could help piece together a timeline of the weekend.
“It’s been a downhill spiral since that Christmas four years ago,” Calab’s aunt Nancy told Dateline. “His mother quit living after his death. I was there for her in every nook and cranny, but all I can do is empathize. I couldn’t truly feel her pain. Not like that.”
Nancy told Dateline that every Christmas has been heartbreaking for their family but, little by little, they are starting the process of healing. And for the first time in years, Calab’s mother has put up a Christmas tree.
“I know the pain is still fresh for her,” Nancy said. “But we’re doing the best we can. We hope by sharing my nephew’s story, someone will come forward. We need peace for our families, and peace for Calab.”