A Southern University track athlete and an athletic trainer were shot to death early Sunday when they became caught in the crossfire of a gunfight allegedly involving a former Southern football player and another man during a party at an apartment complex near the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La.
Annette January, a 19-year-old freshman athlete from Gary, Ind., and Lashuntae Benton, a 19-year-old sophomore from Lake Charles, La., were innocent bystanders, according to police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. A 24-year-old man sustained non-life threatening wounds when he also was struck by gunfire, police said (via the New Orleans Advocate).
Ernest Bernard Felton, a 22-year-old man who played one season of football in 2012 as a defensive back, was arrested Sunday evening and booked into Parish Prison on counts of attempted second-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon. Felton and a man identified as Brandon Henderson in the police affidavit of probable cause allegedly exchanged gunfire after Henderson pulled up at the party in a car shortly after 2 a.m. Henderson, the Advocate reports, was wounded and drove his bullet-riddled car to a local hospital, where he remains.
According to Coppola, detectives believe an earlier argument between the two men led to the shootout. Ballistic tests are being conducted to determine which shooter or shooters killed January and Benton.
January, who was salutatorian at Gary’s Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, planned to study criminal psychology and wanted to major in business administration, according to a recruiting profile cited by the Chicago Tribune. She ran the 100- and 300-meter hurdles and the last leg of the 4-by-400 meter relay in high school. She was on a full scholarship at Southern.
“She was an angel,” her cousin, Brittany Moss, told Chicago’s ABC affiliate. “Everybody she talked to just loved her and I’m going to miss her. I just wish it was a nightmare.”
Benton’s mother, Theresa Tillman, told the Tribune that her daughter was living in a Southern dormitory.
“My baby was a very vibrant child, a beautiful child with a beautiful heart,” Tillman said. “Everybody loved her.”
“The university asks for prayers and support for the families at this difficult time,” Ray Belton, president of the Southern University system, said in a statement released by the school.