Mother seeks answers after Tootsie’s barback murdered at East Nashville home

Unsolved Tennessee

“My child was murdered.” Speaking those words still seems unreal for Laura Coughlin, more than three months after the shooting death of her 23-year-old son.

“This was two days before Robert’s birthday. We took him to Pinewood Social,” she explained while clutching a photo of her oldest son. “I just cherish this picture because it’s the last picture I have with him.”

Robert and Laura Coughlin (Submitted by family)

Making good use of his quick-wit and people skills, Robert Coughlin worked in the food service industry since his time at Franklin High School. His most recent job was at Tootsie’s where he was a barback.

“He had looked into doing standup comedy,” his mother said. “I would’ve been fine if he stayed being a barback — do it well and be kind to other people.”

At the age of 23, Robert Coughlin had moved to East Nashville, where he rented out an apartment inside a home with some friends along Shelby Avenue near South Sixth Street.

Robert Coughlin (Submitted by family)

The afternoon of Aug. 13, Metro detectives said the young man called 911 and told a dispatcher he had been assaulted and shot. He then exited his upstairs apartment and collapsed, according to police.

“The doorbell rang at 7:50 that night,” Laura Coughlin recalled. “A Franklin police officer and a chaplain were at our door. When the chaplain comes — the chaplain doesn’t come to tell good news — and  they told us that Robert had been shot.”

Her son had been transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

(Photo: WKRN)

About a week later, Metro police issued an alert for 23-year-old Evan Smith-Erving and stated he was wanted for questioning in Robert Coughlin’s murder. Officers said he was the registered owner of a silver Mercedes Benz seen in surveillance photos leaving the scene of the fatal shooting.

“We do believe Mr. Smith-Irving possibly has potential information, so we asked him to come forward with information to help close this case,” Detective James Smith with the Metro Nashville Police Department explained.

Evan Smith-Erving (Courtesy: Metro Nashville Police Department)

With Smith-Erving still not located weeks later, police released additional pictures showing two other men running from the shooting scene and fleeing in a silver sedan. At the very least, Detective Smith believes Robert Coughlin was familiar with the two men.

“It seems that they were either invited or let in initially,” the detective said. “The victim recognized who they were. I don’t think he assumed they were any threat.”

Three months later, the identities of the men, the whereabouts of Smith-Erving and the motive behind the killing are some of the questions that remain; however, Coughlin’s mother is not convinced the answers will bring her family closure.

“If these men are ever caught, I don’t think our life is just going to be wrapped up in a nice pretty package with a big red bow here — go on with your life,” she said. “There’s always going to be a hole in our family.”

2 men sought in fatal shooting of Robert Coughlin (Courtesy: Metro Nashville Police Department)

Holding onto her faith, Laura Coughlin said she was certain of one thing.

“If they’re never caught, God knows who they are and God knows how many hairs are on their head. They will not escape God’s justice,” she explained.

Anyone with information on the murder of Robert Coughlin is urged to contact Nashville Crime Stoppers at 615-74-CRIME.

News 2 is digging deeper into Tennessee’s most notorious unsolved cases.

Nashville’s homicide rate is up year to year. News 2 investigates the deadly trend and what’s being done about it in a special series, Murder in Music City.

Click here to read more.

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