NATALBANY — Three slayings in the same neighborhood within roughly 24 hours left residents in a small village north of Hammond reeling Friday, as investigators tried to determine motives for the Natalbany killings and whether they are related.
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards’ office offered two $5,000 rewards Friday afternoon for information leading to the arrest and indictment of whoever was responsible for the Thursday morning shooting deaths of Randy Darnell Bickham, 31, of Springfield, and Charleston Mitchell, 24, of Hammond, and for the Friday morning death of 18-year-old Marquise Lightfoot, of Natalbany.
The three men were killed in a tight-knit neighborhood between the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and Ponchatoula Creek, on the south side of La. 1064.
Hullon Vining said officers came knocking on his door at 6:30 a.m. Friday, saying a body had been found and asking his wife, Diane Lightfoot, to walk down McGee Road from their home to the place off Jimmy Road where the body lay.
Vining said he knew the body was his wife’s eldest son when he heard her wails from down the street.
A man living on Jimmy Road had found the man’s body in his backyard shortly after 6 a.m., when he stepped outside to feed his animals.
Edwards declined to state whether Marquise Lightfoot had been shot or was killed by other means, but the sheriff said some neighbors told detectives they had heard gunfire that morning.
A day earlier, about 300 yards away, deputies had found Bickham and Mitchell shot to death in an SUV parked on the grassy shoulder of Haynes Road, just behind Reimers Gordon Temple Church of God in Christ. Residents had called 911 when they heard gunshots about 3:45 a.m. that day.
Edwards said Friday that he asked the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab to “put a rush” on processing evidence collected from the two scenes, but thus far there was “very little information to go on” in determining a motive or suspects.
The rural village is known to have a problem with illegal drugs, Edwards said, and his office had investigated robberies and burglaries in the area, but homicides are uncommon.
“Conventional wisdom, if you want to talk about statistics for homicides like this, drugs are normally a prevailing factor,” Edwards said, adding that domestic disputes are another common cause.
Edwards stressed that someone in the community knows what happened to these men and asked those with information to step forward.
“We don’t, for one second, believe any of these were random acts,” Edwards said. “These were targeted, maybe for separate reasons, but these were targeted homicides, not someone just randomly trying to pick a victim.”
Tabitha Grant, who walked along McGee Road on Friday morning as detectives questioned neighbors and the Coroner’s Office prepared to move the body, said Bickham and Mitchell were her cousins and Marquise Lightfoot was a friend of her daughter through school.
Grant said she didn’t think her cousins and Marquise Lightfoot knew each other, though, noting the age difference between them. She said Marquise Lightfoot’s family had only recently moved to the area.
Standing in their front yard while his wife spoke with detectives at the sheriff’s substation in Hammond, Vining shook his head and said he had feared something like this would happen to his stepson.
Diane Lightfoot had struggled to guide her eldest son down the right path in life, Vining said, giving him a curfew, encouraging him to stay in school and get a job or join the military. When he refused and she felt nothing more could be done, she put him out of the house last week. It was the second time in recent months she had done so, Vining said.
Vining didn’t know where his stepson had been staying, but he continued to hang out with friends around the neighborhood.
Diane Lightfoot last saw her son about 3 a.m. Friday, when she took a plate of food to him down by the creek after some of the neighborhood boys said he was hungry, Vining said.
“She was trying to show tough love, not knowing it would end like this,” neighbor and friend Mickell Besst said. “Now she’s blaming herself. This has really hit her hard.”
Besst said she urged Marquise Lightfoot’s 16-year-old brother, Paul, to behave and be strong for his mother.
“I said, ‘You want to be here. You don’t want to die,’ ” Besst said. “ ‘Be here for your mama because she needs you more than anything right now.’ ”
Besst said Thursday’s double shooting left her anxious and unable to sleep that night. She was awake with her feverish child about 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. Friday, when she heard a “ruckus and commotion” and some loud talking outside her home.
She looked out but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
“Everybody’s normally sitting out, some of them drinking, until 2 or 3 (a.m.) when they go back in,” she said. “It was nothing unusual.”
Besst said she did not hear any gunshots.
Leon Terry, who found Marquise Lightfoot’s body in his yard Friday, said he had not heard gunshots either. He said he didn’t go close to the body once he spotted it and couldn’t say what might have caused the man’s death.
Terry said he called 911 to report the body, then called his daughter, whose three young children were staying with him at the time.
Kiara Terry said her dad’s news made her nervous and afraid.
“There’s so much going on,” she said. “Life is too short.”
Kiara Terry echoed Besst in saying that Marquise Lightfoot had not been mixed up in drugs or making trouble.
“Marquise didn’t bother nobody,” she said. “I still can’t figure out who would do something like this. ... All I can say, he’s in a better place now.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.