The crowd gathered Tuesday evening on Southern University’s campus cried, sang, prayed and hugged each other as they remembered the two 19-year-old students shot to death over the weekend.
In a packed ballroom, family members of the slain women came together with classmates, teammates and total strangers to pay tribute to their lives and offer comfort to each other.
Freshman Annette January, of Gary, Indiana, and sophomore Lashuntae “Tae” Benton, of Lake Charles, were killed about 2 a.m. Sunday, innocent bystanders in a shooting outside an off-campus party.
Tuesday night’s event concluded with a candlelight memorial outside the Smith-Brown Student Union and included performances by Southern’s gospel choir and the Human Jukebox band. Many of those gathered wept and leaned on each other, and several speakers choked back tears, noting how the killings have left the campus in shock.
“Everything I put down on paper wasn’t enough to tell who these ladies were and what they meant to us,” said Demetrius Carter, captain of Southern’s football team, speaking on behalf of the university’s student athletes. “When we heard the news, I’ve never seen so many grown men cry.”
Alana Lamelle, a Southern student who said she’s known Benton since elementary school, cried as she remembered her friend.
Dawn January, Annette’s mother, traveled to Baton Rouge from the family’s home in Indiana after learning of the shooting, and on Tuesday clapped and swayed as the university’s gospel choir performed the second of two songs.
A number of Benton’s friends, many also from Lake Charles, pressed together holding lit candles after the memorial ended about 8:15 p.m., praying and taking photos together.
“It was comforting but also tough,” said Tarika Williams, 23, who said she’s known Benton since helping coach her in track in high school.
Others at the memorial never got to meet either of the young women before they were killed but came out to show support for the university community, referred to with pride repeatedly as “Jaguar Nation.”
Kortlyn Ford, a 21-year-old junior at Southern, said she didn’t personally know Benton or Annette January but understood some of the pain and anguish of those who did.
“I had a friend who got killed with gun violence,” Ford said. “I wanted to pay my respects to the family and to the students.”
Scripture was frequently invoked during the two-hour memorial. The Rev. Gerard Robinson recited from Genesis as he beseeched the students to look after each other: “You are your brother’s keeper.”
Robinson also was among several speakers who urged students to stand against gun violence. Referring to the national Black Lives Matter movement, Robinson said, “We must make our own lives matter.”
Student Angelle Bradford called for a march on campus Wednesday at 11 a.m. to demonstrate against violence.
“For some of us, losing someone to senseless violence is far too common,” Bradford said. “For some of us, it’s the first time losing someone in this way.”
As students slowly made their way out of the ballroom, members of the Human Jukebox stood up and began singing.
“We fall down,” the band sang, “but we get up.”