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Two killings leave neighbors at a loss

by I.C. Murrell | June 9, 2021 at 3:12 a.m.
The intersection of West 23rd Avenue and South Maple Street, which was the scene of a homicide that claimed the life of a 14-year-old girl, is pictured Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Kenneth Darrough has endured anything but a peaceful week, so far.

On Sunday, 36-year-old Brandon Dement, whom Darrough called his "homeboy," died at a hospital after he was found shot in front of a residence at 2120 S. Maple St., just blocks away from Darrough's house. The shooting occurred about 9:15 p.m., according to the Pine Bluff Police Department.

Darrough said he was unsure who or why anyone would have killed Dement.

"I sure hate that, though," he said.

The next evening, about 9:43, a 14-year-old girl was found shot to death in a car on the same street between West 23rd and West 24th avenues. Police say that shooting happened at 23rd and Maple.

Darrough said he ran to check on the pulse of the 14-year-old.

"I just heard a female screaming that her cousin just got shot," he said. "That's real foul, though, man. I just don't understand how you can shoot a 14-year-old."

Police have not named the slain teenager, citing a state law that prohibits authorities from identifying victims under the age of 17. A call to Jefferson County Coroner Chad Kelley was not immediately returned as of Tuesday afternoon.

Police have yet to name a suspect in either case, but the proximity of the shootings in time and location was no surprise to Darrough.

"I'm not shocked at all," he said "It'd be gunshots all day, all night. I'm not surprised."

That description contrasts from how Jasmine, a resident who lives across from Darrough but did not want to give her last name, views daily life in an area just blocks southeast of Southeast Arkansas College.

"We have a peaceful neighborhood," said the married mother of two with a third due in August. "All our neighbors look out for each other. We don't have no problems around here. It's just really the first time [for a tragedy like this]."

Yet Jasmine said she told her kids to get on the floor and called police once she heard the shots that claimed the life of the 14-year-old.

"I didn't know where the shots were [fired from]," Jasmine said. "It was just too close."

Pine Bluff police Lt. David DeFoor said the girl was found in a small SUV, but added he has not received any other details on that or the Sunday shooting of Dement. Both slayings are still under investigation.

It is not clear, then, whether police have established a connection between the shootings. Neither Darrough nor Jasmine said they heard of a motive for either.

"I didn't know [the shooting] was right here," Jasmine said. "By the time I did look out the door, everything was taped off."

Most of that yellow, crime-scene tape was washed away Tuesday afternoon, as heavy rain flooded streets across Pine Bluff.

And while police are still investigating, the slayings -- especially that of a young girl -- have angered a city that has endured nine of them so far in 2021 and caught the attention of the faith community.

"For starters, anytime we hear of any sort of acts like that, whether it be shooting, abuse or anything like this, it's heartbreaking," said Matt Mosler, pastor of New Life Church at Jefferson Square. "It reminds us why we're here. We don't know all the details behind this or if there's any way to explain the shooting death of a young person whom God created with a purpose and plan in mind.

"The fact that we live in a world where the enemy is trying to steal, kill and destroy the beauty of God's creation, we have to do more than just pray. We have to pray for certain, but we have to listen. When God says we're his hands and feet, walking in the footsteps of Jesus to fight, serve and defend – not as a church but the church – we're required to stand and defend the defenseless."

The church must do a better job to rebuild the family, Mosler added, saying the family is under direct attack by "the enemy" and people are left to see the results.

"We have to serve the community and deal with the hopelessness that's rampant among this younger generation," Mosler said. "Many feel they will end up underground or in prison. That leads to senseless acts like this. Again, we don't know all the details."

One way to serve the community is to reach out where people are "drowning" in fear and restore hope, the former broadcaster said, calling hopelessness in the community an epidemic.

"What that looks like, that depends on the situation, but we don't know until we get down and dirty and get church in the city rather than the city in the church," Mosler said.

In this city, Jasmine is determined not to let the killings chase her out of her home.

"I'm not going to leave," she said. "I don't have anything to do with anything. I just pray that it don't get closer. That's all I can do."

A piece of crime scene tape remains on a street pole at the intersection of West 23rd Avenue and South Maple Street on Tuesday. A 14-year-old girl was found dead in a small SUV following a shooting at this intersection. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
A piece of crime scene tape remains on a street pole at the intersection of West 23rd Avenue and South Maple Street on Tuesday. A 14-year-old girl was found dead in a small SUV following a shooting at this intersection. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
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