When Antoin Liggins lost a member of his immediate family to suicide, his other family — his motorcycle family — showed up to support him and honor his son’s life.
Liggins’ son, Antoin “Fatz” Liggins Jr., died on April 11, 2020. He was 24.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Liggins was faced with an impossible dilemma: He could only have a handful of people at his son’s funeral, due to crowd restrictions. Amid his grief, he dreaded choosing who from his large family could be at his side to say a final goodbye to Fatz.
So he turned to the motorcycle community in Baltimore for advice. That vulnerability was new for Liggins, who typically shares little about his private life.
“I just felt so shocked – no parent ever expects to bury their own child,” Liggins said. “I had to reach out to my motorcycle family to see what we could do.”
Together, the community turned Fatz’s funeral into a massive show of support. The procession included hundreds of motorcycles, drawing the attention of law enforcement. When the officers found out about the purpose of the gathering, they assisted in escorting the group to the cemetery, Liggins said.
While only a handful of family and friends were allowed to gather around the grave, the motorcycle community lined the edges of the cemetery, their presence lifting Liggins’ spirit.
“Everybody that I’d ever ridden with was there,” he said. “I had such a smile on my face — it didn’t feel like a sad occasion because I was just so happy to see all of those faces there for me and my son.”
That, Liggins, said is the definition of family: People who are willing to stop what they are doing to show up for each other.
“There has never been a time I didn’t feel supported by the motorcycle community here,” he said. “There is no perfect family, but we come close to it because of the support and respect.”
The community also organized a memorial ride for Fatz, which drew about 200 riders.
“I never thought I’d be on the receiving end of a memorial ride,” Liggins said. “It meant a lot.”
Fatz wasn’t actively involved in the local motorcycle community at the time of his death. He had grown up riding dirt bikes but lost the passion for riding when he hit his teenage years. But in one of the last conversations with his dad, he expressed an interest to hop on a bike and join his dad’s friends for a ride.
He had recently found out he was going to be a father himself and was talking about moving away from the groups and activities that had gotten him in trouble. He wanted to focus on becoming a good example for his child.
Liggins credits motorcycles and his riding buddies for helping to keep him out of trouble and he was excited to think his son might choose a similar path away from negative influences. He was looking forward to riding together.
He keeps thinking back to that conversation and to the others before it, wondering if there were any signs that he missed. The COVID-19 pandemic had added more stress and worry into his son’s life, but no one knew the extent of Fatz’s depression.
“The day of his death, he had just been joking that he was going to be a better rider than me,” Liggins said. “It was just such a shock.”
Liggins drew into himself at first, but then opened up to let others know what he was going through.
“Seeing that support really helped change my whole idea about being so private,” he said. He got phone calls and messages asking about how he was holding up.
“I can say that I’m very proud to be a part of that community and they played such a big part in helping me and honoring my son,” Liggins said.
Liggins is still riding and recently helped organize a ride to Daytona, Florida. He jokes that his immediate family probably thinks he spends more time with his motorcycle family than he does with them.
He’s since sold the bike that his son had wanted to ride because the memories and thoughts about what could have been were just too painful. But Liggins thinks about his son every day.
“We were planning to ride together,” he said. “But now I have to ride for him.”
This story was told by Mara Klecker