West Point Police Chief Tim Brinkley said it appears the Starkville High School student who was shot and killed in the early morning hours of New Years Day was 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 it was possible that Collins, who goes by the name "Frog," 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, and one bullet struck Mitchell in the head. Mitchell was still alive when emergency personnel arrived and he was transported by helicopter to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
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.
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.
Collins was arrested and initially charged with murder, but that charge was upgraded to capital murder. He is a convicted felon and although Brinkley could not confirm was his previous crimes were, he said they were non-violent in nature.
However, a judge reduced the charge back down to murder during Collins' initial court appearance Tuesday at the West Point Municipal Court because the circumstances crime did not fit the requirements for capital murder.
Collins was also charged with felony possession of a firearm. His bond was set at $2.2 million.