James Earl Jones Jr. was a scholar. A mentor. An aspiring doctor. A spiffy dresser. A friend. And a hero.
“My brother’s life spoke for itself,” Samuel Heath, Jones’ older brother, said Thursday.
But all of his ambitions and dreams ended Monday night, when Jones was gunned down while attempting to buy an iPhone he saw advertised on Craigslist. Thursday afternoon, nearly 500 people gathered on the Clark Atlanta University campus for a memorial to honor Jones. One by one, those at the podium wiped away tears while sharing memories of the 21-year-old junior.
Mentoring was a way for Jones to encourage children to choose the right paths and believe in themselves, according to Tracey Knight, who runs a mentor program.
“He was tireless in his pursuit,” Knight said. “James knew he was accountable to something higher.”
Jones didn’t hold back when it came to talking about his childhood. He wasn’t always the best behaved kid, and his school work wasn’t always a priority. As a 5-year-old, he preferred throwing dice with the older kids and winning their money.
But all of that changed when he set foot on the Clark Atlanta campus. Jones not only set his sights on being a doctor, but he also dedicated himself into being a positive role model for younger students. And he always dressed the part. Suits, ties and something in his favorite color: pink.
A junior chemistry major, Jones wanted to be a doctor and had planned to study in China this summer, his brother said.
“You’re my hero,” Jones would tell his brother.
“No. You’re MY hero,” Heath would reply.
According to the young students Jones mentored, he truly was the hero. Adriane Woods, a fourth-grade teacher at Atlanta’s Fickett Elementary School, said when “Mr. Jones” was in her classroom, her students sat up a little straighter and smiled right back.
On Feb. 2, Jones posted on Facebook that he wanted an iPhone 6. One week later, he was attempting to buy the phone he saw advertised on Craigslist when he was shot and killed in Cobb County, according to police. Jones agreed to meet the alleged seller Monday night in a Marietta neighborhood. Instead, he was confronted by three men who shot him twice, robbed him of his Nike tennis shoes, and left him to die in the front seat of his car, police said. Jones, 21, was dead when officers arrived.
Tuesday afternoon, police arrested Jordan James Baker, 18; Jonathon O’Neil Myles, 19; and Kaylnn Shiquez Ruthenberg, 21, at Ruthenberg’s Franklin Road apartment. All three were charged with felony murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault and were booked into the Cobb County jail. They were denied bond at their first court appearances Wednesday morning.
After learning of Jones’ death, some of those fourth-graders tried to convince their teacher to bring them along to the memorial, Woods said. Instead, she brought their hand-made cards and letters and read the children’s words.
“I will miss you, Mr. Jones.”
“I will never forget you.”
“I am sorry for your family.”
Jones made time to go back to help students, even when he didn’t have to be there, Knight said. If a student needed extra help, he would be there. Anquania Davis, a junior biology major and Jones’ mentoring partner, couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t shown up to work with the children. The two won an award last year for their communication and teamwork, Davis said.
“He was a true definition of what it means to be a black man,” Genefine Sapateh, Jones’ girlfriend, said Thursday.
After the memorial, hundreds of pink balloons were released into the air, a tribute to Jones’ favorite color.
In addition to his brother, Jones is survived by his parents, a sister and other relatives. A Go Fund Me fundraising page has been set up to assist the family with funeral costs. The family also hopes to create a college scholarship in his name, his brother said.
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