BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The two Southern University students slain during a shootout at an off-campus party appeared to be “innocent bystanders” who were caught in the crossfire, authorities said Monday.
A former Southern University football player remained jailed on charges he traded gunfire with another man in a shootout that killed the two 19-year-old women, both members of the Baton Rouge school’s athletic program.
State District Court Judge Beau Higginbotham ordered Ernest Bernard Felton, 22, of Miami, held on $90,000 bond, according to East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III.
A witness told investigators that Felton initiated the shooting outside an apartment complex where Felton and others were holding a party early Sunday, according to a police report.
Lashuntae Benton, of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Annette January, of Gary, Indiana, were killed during the exchange of gunfire between Felton and a 24-year-old man who was wounded in the shootout, said Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Don Coppola said. It appears the women were “innocent bystanders,” he said.
Felton was arrested Sunday on charges of attempted second-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon in the shooting of the 24-year-old man, whose wounds weren’t considered life-threatening.
Investigators were awaiting results of ballistic analysis to determine who’s responsible for fatally shooting the women. The 24-year-old man remained hospitalized Monday, Coppola said.
Autopsies performed on Monday showed Benton was shot once in her head and once in her left arm, while January had a single gunshot wound to her chest, said East Baton Rouge Parish coroner William “Beau” Clark.
People were gathered at a party at the apartment complex near LSU’s campus when the 24-year-old man pulled up to the complex in a Chevrolet Cobalt, the police report says. Investigators believe the shooting stemmed from a previous dispute.
A witness told police Felton fired a handgun at the sedan as it approached him and others at the party, according to the police report. Nobody else at the party had a gun, the witness told police.
The district attorney, who joined police in interviewing witnesses at the shooting scene, described the other students at the party as cooperative and polite despite being “very upset.”
“They really represented the university very well,” Moore said.
January, a freshman, was a member of Southern’s track and field team. Benton, a sophomore, was a student athletic trainer.
Assistant athletics director Christopher Jones said Felton was a member of Southern’s football team in 2012 but never played in a game and didn’t return to the team after the season.
“I guess you could call it a non-renewal. He just wasn’t brought back the following year,” Jones said.
Dawn January, Annette’s mother, said police informed her of Felton’s arrest late Sunday after she flew down to Baton Rouge from Indiana.
“It doesn’t change what happened. She’s still not here,” she said.
A candlelight vigil for the slain students was planned for Tuesday evening on Southern’s campus. The Southern University System Foundation established a memorial fund to support relatives of Benton and January.
Benton and January both lived on Southern’s campus, their mothers said.
“My baby was a very vibrant child, a beautiful child with a beautiful heart,” Benton’s mother, Theresa Tillman, said Sunday. “Everybody loved her.”
January was the captain of the track team and member of the student council at her high school in in Gary, said her former track coach, Jerae Protho-Guider.
“Annette wanted to be the best at whatever she did,” Protho-Guider said.
Tillman said her daughter played softball, track and volleyball at her high school in Lake Charles and was pursuing a career in sports medicine. Dawn January said her daughter was outgoing and aspired to be an entrepreneur.
“She didn’t meet any strangers,” she said.
(Photo/Video Source: WAFB)