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West Brook students implicated in West End slaying

April 16, 2019

The alleged gunman in the slaying of West End business owner Anthony Wilson is a 15-year-old West Brook High School student, a sobering revelation by Jefferson County’s top prosecutor in an investigation that has gripped the community.

“We will try him as an adult,” District Attorney Bob Wortham said Monday.

The boy, whose name was not released by authorities, could face a capital-murder charge, although he is too young to be eligible for the death penalty.

Two other West Brook students, Jamirious Jantrel Gardner, 17, and John James Cook, 18, were jailed Sunday on a murder charge. Bernard Bell, 26, the oldest brother of the 15-year-old, faces what police said are related firearms and evidence-tampering charges.

“These kids think they can get away with anything and nothing will happen. We will prove them wrong,” Wortham said, echoing the sentiment of police and elected officials in a late-morning news conference.

Wilson is survived by his wife and two young children.

The Thursday night shooting also took an emotional toll on Truitt Nolan, who was preparing a snack about 10 p.m. when he heard three or four shots outside his home on Madrid Drive, then four or five more after a brief pause.

“I thought, ‘Firecrackers? It’s not even June,’ before I realized what it was,” Nolan said.

He ran outside and peered over the fence as a truck with a flatbed trailer pulled away. Then he heard a man crying out that he’d been shot. He grabbed a flashlight and yelled for his wife to call police. With the narrow beam of his flashlight, Nolan found Wilson, bloodied, lying in the grass.

“He was saying, ‘Help me, help me,’ but there wasn’t anything I could do,” Nolan said. “He was too far gone. I kneeled down and held his hand and tried to comfort him. I watched him die — I watched his eyes glaze over.”

Chief James Singletary of the Beaumont Police Department said during Monday’s news conference that Wilson, a 37-year-old married father of two and the owner of Reli-A-Lawn and Landscaping, “did not deserve to die for … trying to protect his family and his home.”

Police say Wilson had disrupted three people trying to break into his truck parked outside his home in the 900 block of Wisteria Drive before the shooting. They speculated that the same people may have been behind a string of thefts from cars in the neighborhood.

Wilson followed after them in his truck, authorities said, and he was gunned down in the 6800 block of Madrid.

Wilson’s home, the scene of the shooting and the suspects’ homes are all within walking distance of West Brook High.

The 15-year-old shooting suspect lived in an apartment complex off South Major Drive and the other two lived in the neighborhood a block over.

Brandon Bell, the middle brother, said the younger Bell excelled at youth league basketball and football. He said he began hanging out with the older students about a year ago.

The older Bernard Bell was arrested and charged Sunday night with possession of a handgun by a felon and tampering with evidence. Beaumont police Capt. George Schuldt said Sunday night that the gun is believed to be the weapon used to kill Wilson.

Trina Adams, Bernard Bell’s girlfriend, said he wasn’t involved in the slaying or break-ins but was used by police as they tried to squeeze more information from the teens.

“He wasn’t even (at the apartment) when the police came here looking for him,” Adams said. “He came here after I called him and said they were looking for him. Then they tried to arrest him in the car when he pulled up.”

On Monday, there were still splashes of pink paint in the yard where Wilson fell and on the street where bullet casings were found. Neighbors erected a makeshift memorial with a cross and a small spray of flowers.

“We’ve never had anything like this before in the 19 years I’ve been here,” said Sara Thompson, who owns the home there.

Next-door neighbor Ed Campbell, the retired professional golfer, said his daughter lives next door to the Wilson family. She had just signed up for Reli-A-Lawn to begin taking care of her yard. The crew was to have started Monday.

Thompson said several of Wilson’s friends had been by since the incident.

Nolan recalled that Campbell joined him there shortly after the shooting before police and paramedics arrives. A jogger stopped by and attempted to resuscitate Wilson, he said.

As they tended to the man, Nolan shined his light back to the street as the work truck passed by in the opposite direction. He said he and his wife were surprised when news broke that three people had been arrested in connection with the shooting.

“We thought it was just one, the 15-year-old,” Nolan said. “There was just that one kid.”

The jogger told Nolan that a single teenager, who kept both hands in his jacket pockets, had asked him for directions out of the neighborhood just before Wilson pulled up in his work truck. Nolan said the jogger told him Wilson got out and confronted the teen, who then shot him.

On Monday, Beaumont police thanked the Dowlen West Neighborhood Association and credited residents with helping solve the case. Singletary said the department’s task force was aided by hundreds of tips and surveillance footage provided by neighbors.

“They were being nosy neighbors,” Singletary said. “That’s what we want and need.”

haley.bruyn@beaumontenterprise.com

jacob.dick@beaumontenterprise.com

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