It was just a typical afternoon after school for three teenage boys hanging out Wednesday in a St. Paul basement, playing video games. But there also was a stolen gun.
Two of the boys passed the gun back and forth. Then a shot rang out. Within minutes, 17-year-old Da’Qwan Jones-Morris, a popular Henry Sibley High School senior who was making college plans, lay dead.
It was an accident, the 15- and 16-year-old teens told investigators. The 15-year-old who pulled the trigger said he didn’t know the gun was loaded. He called 911 as the 16-year-old applied pressure, trying to stop the bleeding. By the time police arrived, emergency workers had declared Jones-Morris dead.
On Thursday, both boys were charged in connection with his death. The 16-year-old, whom the Star Tribune is not naming because he is a juvenile, is charged with second-degree manslaughter/culpable negligence that created unreasonable risk. The 15-year-old faces similar charges, though his name and details of his case were not released because of his age, according to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.
News of the shooting — yet another death in a city that has tallied 29 killings so far this year and is on track to surpass its 1992 high of 34 homicides — quickly spread across social media among grieving friends, neighbors and the Sibley school community.
High school junior Lennaea Evans was left shocked and speechless. “I was so confused,” she said.
Evans had talked to him earlier in the day at Sibley, which is in Mendota Heights, complimenting him on his necklace. Now he won’t be on the basketball court this year, playing for the Warriors. He won’t be there at the end of the school year, walking across the stage to receive his diploma. And he won’t get to visit that long list of colleges.
Instead, on Thursday, Evans and the rest of the Sibley community entered the school’s front door, where someone had used a marker to insert Jones-Morris’ football jersey number — #21 — on a sign that read “A Warrior Lives Here.” Throughout the day, grieving students dressed in Warrior red and school staff talked to counselors and one another. They created memorials, left tributes and gathered for an evening vigil. A fundraising page had raised more than $12,000 in about 12 hours.
Evans started the page to help cover funeral costs for the family. Seeing beyond her own loss of a friend she’s known for several years, Evans began to think of those who knew him much longer, especially his mom, she said.
It all seemed unfathomable, so senseless.
The boys had gone to Jones-Morris’ mother’s home in the 150 block of E. Annapolis Street to play video games, according to the juvenile complaint filed in Ramsey County. At first, the teens told police conflicting stories about where the gun came from, apparently trying to protect one another. But both described casual mishandling of the weapon that ended with an accidental fatal shot and the call to 911 at 3:37 p.m.
When police arrived, Jones-Morris was lying in a pool of blood, video equipment and school backpacks scattered about.
The older teen told police he stole the gun on Halloween, taking it from the front passenger seat of an SUV parked near the high school with the driver passed out. The teen took the gun and put it in his shoulder bag.
The older teen told police that while the three boys played video games, he unloaded the gun and handed it to the younger teen, who pulled the trigger, slid the magazine and “pointed it around.” The younger teen then handed it back.
The older teen said he then reloaded the gun and told his younger friend to put it back into the bag.
The 15-year-old told police he didn’t know it was loaded when he pulled the trigger, shooting Jones-Morris in the torso as he played a video game.
He was sorry, he told police.
It had all happened in an instant.
‘The light of everything’
Everyone in the high school community knew Jones-Morris. He was outgoing and often loud.
“He was the light of everything,” Evans said. “When he walked in the room, everything was better. He was never mad at anyone. No one could be mad at him. He could always make you smile.”
On the basketball court, he was the one who got the bench “hyped up,” she said. “He was always the one cheering. He was always the one standing up. He was the one who was extra cheering even when it wasn’t that good of a play.”
Football was the main sport for Jones-Morris, who stood about 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. So he was dejected when a torn ligament in his elbow took him out for much of the last part of the season. But he was there to cheer on his teammates.
“He was always upbeat and always had a bounce in his step,” said Tom Orth, associate high school principal and head football coach. “He brought energy and joy into the room.”
He was the guy everyone loved, said high school basketball coach John Carrier.
“He was a great leader,” he said. “He was just a wonderful, positive person. A perfect teammate. He would go out of his way to pick you up.”
Family, friends and a community were “left wondering how someone that full of life and that brought so much joy is no longer here,” Orth said.
Staff writers Pamela Miller and Liz Sawyer contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788