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'Mama, I love you,': Macon woman mourns son's death in freezing weekend weather

Sheila Fowler says she spoke to her son every day. She knew something was wrong when he didn't call Christmas morning.

MACON, Ga. — Sheila Fowler got a call she'll never forget on Christmas morning: her son, James Leon Burch Jr., was dead.

Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones believes Burch died from the cold this weekend, just a day after another man, John Ragin, died the same way on Cherry Street in downtown Macon.

"He called me Christmas Eve night, and he told me, 'Mama, I love you,'" Fowler recalled, fighting back the tears.

Every day, Fowler got a call from her best friend, her son, James. So when she didn't hear from him Christmas morning, she knew something wasn't right. 

Eventually, she did get a call, but it wasn't from Burch.

"I did at 11 o'clock from the sheriff's department. They told me my son was deceased," she said.

Her best friend, her baby, was found dead near 3900 Pio Nono Circle. Burch was homeless, she says. He died in the cold just a month before he was supposed to get a pacemaker and a fresh start.

"James was almost there. Almost. He was almost there. But the word he kept saying to me was, 'No, mama. No. I don't want to come home,'" Fowler said.
Several Macon shelters came together last week to expand capacity and accommodate as many as possible. They wanted to avoid tragedy.

"Taking our typical capacity of 120 at Brookdale, or 120 at Salvation Army, and creating about 70 additional beds. Really, now up to 80 additional beds," said Jake Hall with United to End Homelessness.

They're working to make those additional beds permanent. They also worked with the Macon Transit Authority to provide free bus rides to the shelters.

"We should care about the lives of those who live on the margin, and the system that we have in place should be prepared to receive them," Hall said.

Hall says the right system was in place. He fears without it, there could have been more deaths.

"As we continue to expand the effort, that we'll reach a day one day soon where we don't find headlines like this Christmas Day," he said.

Fowler says she believes the county and resource centers are doing everything possible to help. Her only wish is to have her son back.

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