Community Mourns Pair of Teens Killed at Mississippi After-Prom Party
A 19-year-old man was arrested for going on a deadly rampage at an after-prom party in Mississippi in the early hours of Sunday morning, according to police. Six teenagers were wounded by gunfire in the shooting, and two later died of their injuries.
The two victims had not been named by police by Sunday night, but friends and family in the city of Bay St. Louis were quick to identify them as Haeleigh Stamper, 16, and De’Arreis Smith, 18, on social media, as well as two fundraising pages for funeral costs.
Tori Jones, a 17-year-old friend of Haeleigh’s, spoke to The Daily Beast by phone as she returned home from a memorial ceremony held by the community on Sunday evening.
“Everybody released white and pink balloons for Haeleigh, and black and red for Dee Dee,” she said. “We were all crying… Everybody misses her. She was the light in everybody’s life. You couldn’t have a bad day when she was around.”
Jones, who was not at the party, said she learned that Haeleigh had been shot when Haeleigh’s mom called her before 7 a.m. on Sunday. “For the first hour, all I could do was just shake. I was convinced that she was gonna text me and be like, ‘I’m not dead. It was a prank,’” she said.
Those who had known Haeleigh gathered at someone’s house later on Sunday, where they all cried together as they remembered their friend.
“Everybody said that she was the light in everyone’s life and she had a pure soul,” Jones said. “And she has so much going for her. She was not meant to die. All she wanted was to have fun in life. That was her main goal in life: she wanted to have fun.”
Jones said she and Haeleigh had talked about running an animal sanctuary together one day, raising their own kids as “third-generation best friends.” (The girls’ parents grew up together.) Haeleigh was also thinking about studying to become a lawyer, but wasn’t sure where she wanted to go to college yet.
“I think she was just really nervous about growing up. She was going to graduate this year, a year early,” Jones explained. “And she changed her mind at the last minute, she just said, I’m not ready to grow up yet.”
De’Arreis Smith had been preparing to graduate in May, according to Kecia Sams, who told NOLA.com that she considered him an adopted member of her family. He “was an amazing soul, a loyal friend, brother and uncle,” Sams said. “He was loved by many and will be missed so very much by his family.”
Smith’s grandmother, Jackie Gordon, told WLOX that he had been “a good kid, and for this to happen, I have no words for that.”
Gordon said Smith had loved music, and was planning on enrolling in the military. She said she was speaking out in an attempt to get “accountability” for his murder.
“I don’t want it to be swept under the rug. I don’t want to say I don’t want justice for De’Arreis, but I want accountability, because justice would be him being here with me,” she said.
Both Stamper and Smith were students at Hancock High School, which addressed the “tragic loss” in a statement. “Our hearts are with their families, friends, and the school staff during this incredibly difficult time,” the school said.
Of the four other victims wounded in the shooting, two were also from Hancock and two were from Bay High School, police said. All are between 15 and 18 years old.
Cameron Everest Brand, the 19-year-old suspect, was charged with murder and aggravated assault after being arrested at his home on Sunday. A motive remains unclear, with details of the moments leading up to the shooting still hazy.
An 18-year-old junior at the party told NOLA.com that he had seen Brand talking to some people and then walking away. Brand then returned and started shooting, the teen said.
Jones said she’d heard that Brand was looking for someone at the party, and began shooting indiscriminately shortly after.
The senior who hosted the party at her home spoke to the Biloxi-based Sun Herald on the condition that her name not be used. “I just wanted everybody to have a good time,” the 18-year-old explained.
“We were having a good time,” she added, “until he started shooting. He just started shooting and left without remorse.”
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