At 8:14 p.m. on New Year's Eve, Greg Lavergne texted his son Trenity "Trent" Grimes: "Happy new year. Be careful. I love you."
Grimes, 29, responded right away: "Same to you daddy. I love you too." Less than five hours later, he was shot and killed outside an apartment building not far from his home — the first person lost to Baton Rouge gun violence in 2018.
After homicides reached a record high for East Baton Rouge Parish in 2017, New Year's Eve was similarly plagued with violence both before and after midnight, leaving two men dead between Sunday night and Monday morning. The two incidents followed a rash of fatal shootings overnight Friday that killed four people and left investigators searching for answers during the final days of 2017.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Saturday he had hoped homicide numbers would continue along a downward path that started several weeks earlier. But the six killings between Friday afternoon and Monday morning have effectively reversed that trend.
Crews responded around 7 p.m. Sunday to reports of a possible stabbing at 4949 Lorraine St. in north Baton Rouge. Benjamin McKeel, 38, was transported to the hospital with critical injuries and died soon after, Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. said Sunday night.
McKeel's death marks the last homicide of 2017, bringing the final tally to 104 across the parish. The previous record for the most intentional and unjustified killings was 96 in 2007, according to FBI statistics dating back more than five decades.
Authorities arrested Katrice Belezaire, 34, on second-degree murder early Monday morning. According to her arrest report, Belezaire told police she stabbed McKeel in the chest with a kitchen knife after he "walked up" on her during an argument inside her house. Detectives recovered the knife, which Belezaire placed on the counter after the stabbing, according to police.
A woman has been arrested in the stabbing death of Benjamin McKeel, 38, on New Year's Eve in the 4900 block of Lorraine Street in Baton Rouge,…
Neighbors said Belezaire lived with her three or four young children, some of whom were home Sunday night and witnessed the stabbing. They said McKeel was her boyfriend.
One woman who lives a few houses down said she went outside when she heard Belezaire screaming for help and running up and down the street. The woman found McKeel on the ground just outside the door of his girlfriend's house.
"I couldn't believe I was seeing somebody like that," the woman said, declining to give her name. "He was losing so much blood."
A large stain remained on the pavement under the carport Sunday afternoon, surrounded by bloody towels and footprints.
The woman said Belezaire was trying to get McKeel into a car and take him to the hospital before another neighbor called police. She said Belezaire was pleading with her boyfriend not to die and telling him how much she loved him.
"Things have gotten so bad around here," the woman said of the neighborhood where she has lived for more than 30 years. "People don't have love in their hearts anymore. … But it's going to get better. It has to. We've got to think about our children."
A cousin of McKeel said he was celebrating the new year by drinking beer and watching football when his father called and told him about what happened. He went to the hospital but found that McKeel was already pronounced dead.
McKeel grew up in Baton Rouge and graduated from Lee High School in 1998. He had several children, his cousin said.
Several hours after the fatal stabbing, Grimes was shot and killed outside an apartment building in the 2600 block of Balis Drive, near College Drive and Interstate 10.
Less than two hours into the new year, a 29-year-old man was shot dead in the 2600 block of Balis Drive in Baton Rouge, according to police.
Police said he was found around 1:45 a.m. with multiple gunshot injuries and died on the scene. Investigators believe the shooting resulted from a fight, but they have not yet identified any suspects.
Lavergne, Grimes' dad, said Sunday afternoon that the news came as "such a shock, but God is going to take care of it. … Nobody has that right and that power to take away (another person's) life."
Grimes had worked as a painter for his dad's company for several years, and Lavergne said they planned to be working together Monday morning. He said Grimes left behind a 2-year-old daughter whom he loved dearly.
"He had the biggest smile you'd ever seen," Lavergne said of his son. "He was just a jolly guy, the kind of person you can't help but love him. … He could make Scrooge smile."
Grimes grew up in south Baton Rouge and graduated from Tara High School before taking some classes at Baton Rouge Community College, Lavergne said. "He was real smart, could quote you anything and was always saying random facts."
Lavergne said he hopes for justice but will continue praying for "whoever did this, because souls are being lost every day."
"It's just sad that people feel like they need to pick up a gun in every single situation," he said. "You can't even get settled into the new year with joy in your heart, but the devil is not going to steal all our joy. … It was a blessing for us to have Trent with us those 29 years."