Mesa mom advances late son’s novel dreams The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa mom advances late son’s novel dreams

January 22nd, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
Mesa mom advances late son’s novel dreams

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

More than two years after her son’s untimely death in Peru, Sherryl LaGrone of Mesa is realizing his dream and honoring his legacy in a unique way.

Christopher LaGrone, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent, was obsessed with writing a trilogy of novels loosely based upon his experiences while assigned to the Douglas station.

LaGrone, 41, an agent for two years, created the fictional character of Layne Sheppard to tell the story of his two years in the Border Patrol, from 2007-2009.

But he passed away from altitude sickness in his hotel room in Cusco, Peru, on Dec. 16, 2018. He had been planning to tour Machu Piccho, an ancient Incan “lost city’’ high in the Andes Mountains.

Machu Picchu has an elevation of 7,972 feet, while Cusco, known as “The Imperial City,’’ has an elevation of 11,152 feet.

The first of Christopher’s three novels, “Fleeing the Past,” has just been published and the other two are scheduled to debut later this year.

“That’s all I care about,’’ Sherryl LaGrone. “It was almost an obsession. He was so passionate, just driven.’’

Sherryl, a retired high school business teacher, said her son worked at a series of jobs, including the Border Patrol, but never seemed to find his niche in life until he pursued his flair for writing.

She was reluctant to describe her son’s experiences in the Border Patrol but said he had “mixed emotions’’ about his job.

“I remember him expressing how challenging it was to apprehend humans crossing the border who clearly were risking their life and the life of their children to find a better and safer place to live,’’ she wrote. 

“Certainly, he was proud of his position, valued his team and the camaraderie, but I feel in the end the job just wasn’t what he had hoped for.’’

But she said it gradually became clear that her son’s real passion was for writing, adding that he had a gift for languages and words.

He had spent the last five months of his life studying Spanish and Spanish culture studying in Argentina, Chile and Peru and was scheduled to return home to Colorado in January 2019.

She said her son thought that learning more about the Spanish language and culture would make his books better and he was thrilled with the experience.

“Christopher was a man with unlimited talent, who, in my opinion, never found much satisfaction or pleasure from his job,” she said. “The last few years of his life were about earning enough money to allow him to spend his after-work hours and weekends writing, creating and perfecting his novel.’’

“He would write until early hours of the morning, all weekend days, making time only for running and working out to stay healthy. The last five months of his life, I believe were his happiest.’’

Sherryl said the novels would never have been possible without the talents of Denny Dressman, a retired longtime reporter with the Rocky Mountain News in Denver who also is the author of 13 books.

She said Dressman and her son had become close friends, while Dressman served as Christopher’s editor and mentor.

While Christopher had started the third book, he passed away before completing it.

Dressman volunteered to complete it, warning Sherryl that he could not duplicate her son’s style of writing and had never written fiction before, but he would do his best.

“Denny has mentored me, directed me and supported me every single step of this lengthy process. Christopher wrote a wonderful story, but the publishing of his novel, following his death, would never had happened without Denny,’’ Sherryl said.

Christopher had planned to write one border book but it was so long that Dressman advised him that the best way to tell the story was in a trilogy, but that further complicated efforts to find a publisher.

But Dressman was able to overcome this hurdle by using his contacts in the publishing world, working with a friend at Morgan James Publishing to make arrangements for publication.

“Naturally, for a parent to lose a child is a devastating and unimaginable event from which one will truly never recover,’’ Sherryl said.

“This undertaking has given me an avenue to carry on my son’s dream and preserve his legacy. It has been a very challenging, sometimes heartbreaking experience, but also has helped mend a deep, deep wound.’’

When the books are published, “I’m going to know that many people will read his books and appreciate what he did as a human being,’’ she said.

Known together as the “Delta Tango Trilogy,” the first book describes Sheppard’s experiences apprehending people who are crossing the border illegally.

Book Two recounts Sheppard’s love affair with a fictional “Dreamer,’’ Felina Camarena Rivera, in “Felina’s Spell,’’ while book three completes the story in “Moments of Truth.’’

The book is available on in both hard copy and Kindle formats.


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