Student's family seeks answers in killing near Howard campus
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Lamunta Williams' great-aunt knows his 16 years were hardly picture-perfect.
"But you can't use what he might have done last week, the week before, or even Monday, against him," Sonya Shropshire says.
Tribute after tribute on Facebook speaks of his ties, rumored or real, to the Crips. Police have named his accused killer, 18-year-old Courtney Birt, as part of a Chattanooga offshoot of the rival Bloods.
"But this wasn't gang-related," Shropshire insists. "It was just someone being foolish, taking a child's life."
Williams' family believes his death Tuesday morning was 'payback' for an incident involving the mother of Birt's child, at Howard High School, on Valentine's Day.
"He (Lamunta) hit her back, after she kept hitting him," Shropshire says. "Just junk. She should have kept her hands to herself and my nephew would have been alive."
More than 24 hours after finding Williams dead near a vacant home two blocks from Howard High School's campus, police have not said they believe he got to where he was shot. Nor will they say whether they believe somebody besides Birt may have contributed to the killing.
"We've heard 'Munta didn't make it into school, 'Munta was put out of school," Shropshire says. "Or Munta got off the bus and went a different way. Or that he was chased out of the school."
Shropshire met with Howard's principal, Dr. Paul David Smith, Wednesday afternoon.
"Every bit of this happened off campus," Dr. Smith tells Channel 3. "There was no foot chase from here to anywhere else."
"None of this happened on campus, none of this started on campus yesterday."
Williams was a sophomore, transferring to Howard after attending Washington Alternative School.
"He was finding his place here, at his own pace," Dr. Smith says.
At assemblies Wednesday, Dr. Smith asked Howard students treat Williams' loss as a death in the family.
"We ARE family," he says. "When it comes time for his class to graduate (2015), we will have a diploma, for his mother with his name on it."
Williams family has yet to plan his funeral. The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office tells Channel 3 that the autopsy had not been completed Wednesday afternoon.
A memorial Facebook page offers glimpses of a soul both street-toughened and tender.
"Even if some s--- would p-- you off, you'd hold your composure and keep it moving," reads one.
"The last thing you told me was to stay out of trouble and ya love me," writes another. "I love you big bro'"
Sonya Shropshire recalls the young man who could make anyone laugh, at any time.
"He was big, and he liked to dream big,"she says.
"I wish all of them (his friends and fellow students) would dream big, bring that dream to life and make it big. They're making life very short, very short."