By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
West Point Police Chief Tim Brinkley said the Starkville High School student who was shot and killed in the early morning hours of New Years Day was apparently the victim of a random act of violence.
Devin Mitchell, 16, was outside of the Ridgewood East Apartment complex at 1311 East Main St. in West Point, where he was visiting family, when police say Tavaris Collins, 31, of West Point, allegedly shot Mitchell because he was convinced someone was out to get him.
“We do know that this was a random act of violence,” Brinkley said. “The victim was not involved in any criminal activity. Our investigation revealed that he was really an innocent bystander.”
Brinkley said people were shooting fireworks throughout the community, and Collins, who goes by the name “Frog,” possibly perceived the noise to be the sound of gunshots.
“Apparently Mr. Collins fired shots at what he believed to be persons that were shooting at him. Our investigation revealed that multiple shots were fired, but that no other shots were fired other than those that came from Mr. Collins’ gun,” Brinkley said. “Mr. Mitchell was not in the possession of a gun and did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Collins fired his gun multiple times, Brinkley said, and one bullet struck Mitchell in the head. Brinkley also said he believes Collins was about 15-20 yards away from Mitchell when he began shooting.
Mitchell was still alive when emergency personnel arrived. He was transported by helicopter to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and was later pronounced dead.
Collins was arrested and initially charged with murder, but the charge was upgraded to capital murder. However, a judge reduced the charge back to murder during Collins’ initial court appearance Tuesday at the West Point Municipal Court because the circumstances of the crime did not fit the requirements for a capital murder charge.
“We hope that upon an indictment we will be able to seek a capital charge,” Brinkley said.
Collins is a convicted felon, and although Brinkley could not confirm his previous crimes were, the police chief said they were non-violent in nature.
Collins was also charged with two counts of felony possession of a firearm. His bond was set at $2.2 million.
Brinkley said the area around the Ridgewood East Apartment complex is not considered a high-crime area.
“It was reported by some of the news agencies that it was a drive-by shooting, but that report is erroneous — it was not a drive-by,” Brinkley said. “The investigation has revealed that the shots were fired from within the apartment complex.”
Apartment complex management and residents, along with Mitchell’s family, have been cooperative with the police during the investigation, officials said.
Mitchell’s teachers and coaches have all described him as an all-around great student and athlete who was respected by his peers. He was a star running back on the SHS football team. Mitchell helped his team reach the Mississippi Class 5A title game after a perfect season during regional play.
Brinkley said it was clear Collins and Mitchell did not know each other. The police chief also said it was not believed to be connected with another recent shooting in West Point — the murder of LeAndre Johnson, 42, of Columbus on Dec. 16.