Ex-DeKalb football standout fatally shot at Savannah State

No one would’ve complained if Ray Starks had taken the night off from helping coach the Miller Grove High School football team. The Wolverines could have played without freshman Jamel Starks, too.

But less than 24 hours after their son and brother was shot to death, the Starkses knew where they needed to be: the Friday night football game.

“His brother would want him to play,” Ray Starks told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Friday afternoon.

Christopher Jamal Starks, was in the Student Union at Savannah State University when he was shot during an altercation Thursday night, according to police. The 22-year-old died later at a local hospital.

The deadly shooting prompted an outcry about safety on college campuses, with students and parents voicing concerns on social media. With a new year school year just under way, Savannah State leaders vowed to increase security on campus to keep students and staff safe. On Friday, those coming on campus were required to show identification.

A former football standout, 22-year-old Christopher Starks had a passion for music and was eager to see whether he could make it his career, his family said. He had recently recorded some rap tracks and a video and went by the name “Booley Boo.” And he was always smiling, always happy, his family and friends said.

That love of music was due in part from growing up attending Berean Christian Church in Stone Mountain, Ray Starks said of his older son. Chris Starks loved to dance and sang in high school choir.

“He was just a happy kid,” Ray Starks said. “He didn’t have an enemy in the world, and that’s hard to do these days.”

Chris Starks had grown up watching his father help coach the Southwest DeKalb High School football team alongside legendary coach Buck Godfrey. And when Chris was ready to play, it came easy to him, Miller Grove football coach Damien Wimes said Friday.

“It was just natural to him,” said Wimes, who first met Starks when he was 5-years-old.

After playing three years at Southwest DeKalb, Starks went to Miller Grove his senior year. After tallying 26 receptions for 453 yards as a wide receiver and 16 tackles on defense, Starks signed a scholarship to play football at Appalachian State University in January 2012. He was also a good student, his former coach said.

“He was just a great kid, very well-rounded,” Wimes said.

During his freshman year, Starks injured his knee, ending his football career, his father said. Chris wanted to be closer to home and transferred to SSU. He had just turned 22 on Aug. 17.

When Ray Starks got a phone call around 9 p.m. Thursday, he immediately left Lithonia and headed to Savannah. But an hour before he could get there, Starks got the second phone call from a detective telling him his son had died.

GBI Agent Catherine Sapp said late Friday that the campus building was full of students when at least one shot was fired. Investigators had several leads in the case, but no arrests had been made, Sapp said, calling the shooting an isolated incident.

“We just have to trust and pray in God that justice prevails,” Ray Starks said.

For some on campus, it was too reminiscent of previous shootings at the oldest public historically black college or university in Georgia. On Sept. 5, 2014, an SSU student was shot and a classmate later arrested. Marviq Richardson is still awaiting trial on aggravated assault and carrying a weapon on school grounds charges, court records showed.

In September 2013, 20-year-old Donald Bernard Lewis, who was not a student, was killed in an early morning shooting at the University Village student housing complex. An arrest has not been made in that case.

Some parents used the University’s Facebook post about Thursday’s deadly shooting to vent their concerns and frustrations over security on campus.

“The safety of those who live, study, work and visit Savannah State University remains a top priority – no exceptions,” SSU posted on its Facebook page. “Savannah State University has zero tolerance for violence of any kind.”

Driving back from Savannah on Friday, Ray Starks said he was focused on supporting his younger son at Friday night’s game. But this time, he wouldn’t be coaching.

“I’m gonna be a daddy tonight,” he said.

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