An eastern Arkansas community was grieving after a 16-year-old junior high school student was fatally shot when at least one person fired into the home he was in Friday morning, authorities said.
Taylon Vail was struck by gunfire around 2 a.m. while on a living room couch at his grandmother’s West Memphis home in the 2000 block of East Harrison Street, according to school and police officials.
West Memphis Assistant Police Chief Robert Langston said the shooters targeted the home but that Vail, a rising basketball talent at West Junior High School, was not the person they were trying to shoot.
West Junior High Principal Charles Tyler described news of the shooting as “devastating” after word reached the 504-student school hours later.
“We lost one of our students last night to senseless violence,” read an afternoon statement from the school. “Please pray for this young man’s family and friends and for our students who are trying to make sense of this.”
Vail, a ninth-grade student, played on the school’s basketball team, his principal said. The team posted a message on its Twitter page reading: “you will always be loved and missed. Fly High.”
Counselors were at the school Friday for students and teachers needing help.
“It’s an extremely hard loss,” Tyler said. “We’re trying to come together as one community.”
West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon spoke to students, staff members and teachers in the school gymnasium, offering condolences while calling for unity and an end to city violence.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re white or black; we are one here in this city,” McClendon said. “I want to let you know that I love you.”
Extra police officers were also at the school, though police said the seventh- through ninth-grade school hadn’t been threatened.
Danielle Bosley, who lives near Vail’s grandmother’s home, said she was watching videos online when she heard rapid gunshots.
“I knew someone had been hurt,” she said, adding that she didn’t hear police sirens for at least 10 minutes afterward.
Her daughter was close friends with Vail and said he was kind and would find ways to make her laugh every day.
“I feel helpless because my daughter is so devastated,” Bosley said. “And as much as I want to teach her and take the pain away from her, there’s not a lot I can do.”
Langston said the teen was staying at his grandmother’s house for a night while his mother was out of town.
Other people were inside the home at the time of the shooting, but none were injured after the shooter or shooters fired several shots at the house, Langston said.
He said people he interviewed Friday told him that Vail “was a great kid” and was trying to recover from an injury and get back to playing basketball.
“Nothing about his background leads us to believe he was being targeted,” Langston said.
The department is offering a $2,000 reward for information about the shooting, as well as for details about killings that happened earlier this month.
Langston said additional officers would be patrolling West Memphis.
The city also announced that the Police Department plans to partner with other local and federal law enforcement agencies in order to curb the recent spike in violence.
Bosley said she still sees room for reducing violence through community-building efforts among residents.
“I just want to see us coming together as a community and show these kids that you’re not alone,” Bosley said.
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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — A 16-year-old was killed when someone fired up to a dozen shots into a West Memphis home early Friday morning.
According to police, first responders were called to 2000 East Harrison around 2 a.m.
On the scene, the family identified the victim as Taylon Vail, a freshman at West Junior High.
They said he was inside the home playing video games when someone opened fire.
Police said the teen had decided to stay at his grandmother’s house while his parents were out of town and they had no reason to believe the well-liked athlete was the intended target.
“From everyone we talked to he was just an outstanding kid,” said West Memphis Assistant Police Chief Robert Langston.
Vail went to West Junior High School and played basketball until he injured himself. The school released a statement Friday after learning of Vail’s death, calling his death “a huge loss.”
Kameron Watson lives in the grandmother’s neighborhood. He said he grew up with Vail and can’t believe he’ll never see his friend again.
“He didn’t mess with no one. We always just played basketball. All he wanted to do was play basketball,” said Watson.
Along with investigating this most recent shooting, West Memphis police had to add more officers to West Junior High after false rumors began spreading on social media about a shooting on campus.
Vail’s friends said they are tired of the violence in West Memphis, and police said they’re not going to tolerate it anymore.
Police have offered a $2,000 reward for information in Friday morning’s shooting, as well as two other shooting deaths that happened last Saturday.
“We are going to use every asset available,” said Langston. “State, federal. If you are shooting in West Memphis, committing violent crimes, we are going to put you in jail.”