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Hours after baptism, Florida teen is shot dead in church clothes protecting friend

De'Mari Jackson
De'mari Jackson |

Just hours after he got baptized in the name of Jesus at The Rock Church of Fort Myers in Florida on Sunday, 16-year-old high school student De’mari Jackson was shot dead in his church clothes as he protected a friend from a fight between two groups of teenage girls.

Syncere Trice, the 19-year-old standout football player at South Fort Myers High School who is accused of shooting Jackson, is now in police custody on a second-degree murder charge. WINK News reported that during a court appearance Wednesday morning, prosecutor Andreas Gardiner said three witnesses to the shooting Sunday night placed Trice at the crime scene.

Wayne Sloss, the administrative pastor at The Rock Church of Fort Myers, told The Christian Post on Thursday that he did not speak with Jackson when he attended the church for the first time on Sunday, but he spoke with Jean Alexandre, the pastor who baptized the teen.

“That Sunday morning that De’mari was baptized, we had eight [people baptized] that morning and one that evening,” Sloss said. “He felt the call of God on his life. Unfortunately, I never got to speak to him just due to the size of our services.”

Sloss said the morning De’mari attended the church, the Rev. Gerardo Diaz delivered a message titled “Bury The Bell” that inspired the late teenager to commit his life to God just hours before his tragic killing.

“[The message was] telling [you] that if you want something, then you’ve got to go full forward and get it. And when God’s calling you toward salvation, which is the first step toward our walk with God, don’t delay,” Sloss recalled. “Today is the day of salvation. You don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. And then to find out that he gets shot and passes away that evening, I mean, it emphasizes that point so incredibly. And you’re just shocked. All these things run through your head.”

A police report on the incident, obtained by WINK News, showed that the groups of girls who sparked the melee, during which Jackson was shot, had been warring with each other for months before the dust-up on Sunday. Trice is reportedly the brother of a girl who was part of a group of girls that drove to the Southward Village neighborhood of Fort Myers and tried to run over a 14-year-old girl and her family members at a neighborhood park. The fight was broken up by the girl’s mother who then ran to her home.

However, one of the teens threatened the family and began hitting a window on their home. When the teen’s father emerged from the home to address the girl attacking their home, witnesses said Trice began shooting and killed Jackson, who was a bystander.

At the time of the shooting, Jackson was with a girl that he had been dating for two months.  According to the police reports, Jackson “placed himself in front” of his friend, “pushed her and told her to run.” As they were running together, Jackson collapsed, still wearing his church clothes. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Speaking about De'mari's visit to the church, Sloss told CP: “He was a first-time guest. He just came in. You know, and then being told that he was protecting … helping people and ended up getting shot in the process, it’s just so mind-blowing to think. It just brings a level of reality to life.”

“It is tragic that we lose young people. It’s heartbreaking. And I work with youth all the time to know that we have to deal with that. We feel bad; we feel sad. No children or parent, no community member should have to go through [this],” Fort Myers Police Officer Yvette Dominique with Crime Prevention told Fox 4. “It’s a sad event, and I’m hoping that people speak up and speak out about it.”

Contact: leonardo.blair@christianpost.com Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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