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Feb. 23—CLARKTON — His stature was large.
The engaging smile put people at ease. And when he spoke, there was a calming influence.
Lamont Pridgen Jr. is being remembered fondly by teachers, administrators and friends following his death on Sunday. The East Bladen High School junior, the son of Madeana and Rholwezi Lamont Pridgen, died in Wilmington at New Hanover Regional Healthcare Systems.
"My heart is overwhelmed," said Areada Rogers, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Clarkton School of Discovery, where Pridgen attended. "My mind is bombarded with memories of his quick smile as he moved about the halls here at CSD. His presence was quiet, easy and calm.
"I will always remember him as a gentle giant who changed my perspective on our end of the world."
Stephanie Norris, principal at Clarkton whose son played football with him, said Pridgen stood out both literally and figuratively.
"He greeted me with a smile each morning as he entered the school and never passed me in the halls without speaking," she said. "Even though he towered over others with his height, and those who lined up against him on the football field were fearful, he was a gentle soul who was a calming influence on those around him.
"I will always remember that kind smile and humble spirit."
Pridgen had been recuperating from injuries sustained in a shooting on Feb. 10. The News-Reporter, a newspaper in Columbus County, reported he was shot twice in the back just north of Whiteville in the parking lot of a grocery store.
In a statement Monday, the Whiteville Police Department said it was unknown if his death was related to injuries in the shooting. The department, New Hanover Regional Medical Center Company Police, and the N.C. Medical Examiner's Office in Raleigh were in a joint investigation, the newspaper says.
Sgt. Scott Moody of the Police Department said it is not believed Pridgen fired a gun, the newspaper said.
Administrators at East Bladen say grief counselors are on campus for students, faculty and staff.
The football team Pridgen was a part of is scheduled to open the coronavirus-delayed season on Friday hosting Whiteville. His number, 73, will be on helmet decals and a moment of silence will be held prior to kickoff.
Heather Thompson, assistant principal at East Bladen, said she was in a FaceTime session with Pridgen last week along with his mother.
"He was excited to talk to us and told us how hard he was working in physical therapy," Thompson said. "His passing was a shock to all of us. He will be missed by many and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."
Thompson said she'd seen him grow and mature since the sixth grade.
"He has always been a sweetheart and gentle giant," she said. "Lamont's mother was always dedicated to him and his education."
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with funeral costs. The page said Pridgen "seemed to have been getting better and was moved to the rehab center at New Hanover to help him learn to walk again."
"Lamont was one of those special students you will always remember," said Melony Edwards, the cafeteria manager at Clarkton School of Discovery. "He was a polite, caring young man, who always had a smile on his face."
Jordan Raynor, the athletics director, coach and a teacher at Clarkton, said she taught him in grades six through eight.
"He was such a gentle giant, always respectful and kind," she said. "I'm not sure why God needed him back so early, but he will be missed."
Union Funeral Home in Whiteville is handling arrangements.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.