AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The father of a slain Auburn football player said his son was a joyous kid who talked about being an FBI agent and scratched plans of going to college in Florida as soon as he met Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn.
Redshirted freshman football player Jakell Lenard Mitchell, 18, died after being shot in the chest early Sunday morning at an off-campus apartment complex.
“Jakell was a fun-loving kid. There were no dull moments around him. His smile, his mannerisms, his personality, he was a good kid. I don’t just say that because he was mine,” Mario Mitchell said of his son.
“If you met him, you’d loved him,” Mario Mitchell said. Jakell Mitchell would have turned 19 on New Year’s Day, his father said.
Auburn police on Sunday afternoon arrested 22-year-old Markale Deandra Hart of Camp Hill, Alabama, on murder charges. Police have not released a motive in the shooting. However, Mitchell’s girlfriend said Mitchell was arguing with a man outside a party when a third man opened fire on him.
A stream of visitors, including university football players and high school friends, filed in and out of the Opelika home where Mitchell grew up with his two brothers. The youngest, just 13, idolized Jakell, their father said.
Mario Mitchell, who played football for Troy University, said his son had initially planned to go to school outside of Alabama.
“It was, ‘Dad I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of this city.’ Then he met Coach (Gus) Malzahn. It was like love at first sight for them two,” Mitchell said of his son. He said his son talked of being an FBI agent when he finished school.
Jakell Mitchell lived in an on-campus dormitory but had gone to a party at the Tiger Lodge apartment complex Saturday, his father said. Auburn students had just finished final exams.
Auburn Police Capt. Will Mathews said police answered a call about 12:25 a.m. Sunday of shots fired at the complex, a few miles from the Auburn campus.
Mitchell had gotten into an argument with another man in the parking lot when a third man pulled a gun, his girlfriend said.
“He had his gun like this and was looking at Jakell,” Ayanna Hughuley, 17, said of the suspect while holding her hand down at her waistband. She said as her boyfriend and the other partygoer got closer to each other during their argument, the third man opened fire, shooting Mitchell in the chest.
“He just started shooting. Jakell fell on the ground and he tried to get back up and run, and then he fell again. He started shooting at Jakell again while Jakell was on the ground,” Hughuley said.
She said she didn’t know what started the disagreement and doesn’t think that Mitchell knew Hart.
Hughuley said she and others helped a wounded Mitchell into a car to take him to the hospital. She said police stopped them on the way and an ambulance took Mitchell the rest of the way.
Hart was being held Sunday afternoon at the Lee County Jail on $150,000 bond. Police said they don’t expect additional arrests.
Mitchell redshirted this season for the Auburn Tigers out of nearby Opelika High School. Able to play both back and tight end, he was expected to contend for a starting spot next season, reports indicated. Mitchell missed his senior season at Opelika as he recovered from an ACL injury. He had rushed for 392 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013 as a high school junior.
Malzahn said Sunday he was “devastated and saddened” by the death of the player, a halfback described by the team website as versatile on offense with blocking, catching and running skills.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Jakell’s family and friends, who are suffering through this senseless tragedy. I know the Auburn Family is hurting, especially our players and coaches, and we are going to love and support them through this difficult time,” he said in a statement. “We have lost a member of our family too young, too soon.”
Blue spray paint dotted the Tiger Lodge parking lot where police marked possible evidence. Students looked at what was a possible bullet hole in one car. Mitchell’s car bearing the license plate “Jakell” was towed from the parking lot late Sunday morning.
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn’s backup quarterback, was one of those who drove up before midday Sunday to remember Mitchell. Johnson wasn’t present at the time of the shooting, but wanted to come by after learning of his teammate’s death.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said, growing emotional. “Jakell was a real good kid.”
Drake Ledet, an Auburn sophomore who lives in an apartment near the shooting scene, said he heard several gunshots after midnight.
“I’d say it was at least eight (shots),” Ledet said, adding he looked outside to see what was happening. “People were screaming.”
It was the same apartment complex where two former football players and a third man were shot to death outside a 2012 pool party. The complex, a few miles from campus, is popular with students.
Jurors convicted Desmonte Leonard of capital murder in the shooting deaths of former Auburn football players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips along with DeMario Pitts. Three other people were wounded. A judge will decide next month whether Leonard should receive the death penalty or life in prison.
(Photo Source: AP)