On the night Amon Rice was shot, he was facing down a group of people who were ridiculing a younger classmate because of his height, according to his mother.
“He was helping a little boy in the ninth grade. He kept telling him, ‘You got to stand up,’” says Antrinette Le’teas Means, Rice’s mother. “He was telling him, he ‘Couldn’t let these kids bully you.’ … He was telling them [the ridiculers], ‘You can’t fight this little boy.’”
Rice, 17, was shot May 10 in a rural area off Leesburg Road. A two-sport athlete at Lower Richland High School, he died two days later. On Thursday, Richland County deputies charged a 21-year-old man in Rice's death.
Rice and the others met in the early evening on May 10 along Greenlake Drive, a half-mile road in the recesses of Lower Richland off Leesburg Road. At one end of Greenlake is the Unity Missionary Baptist Church and at the other end the asphalt crumbles to a dirt road leading into the woods.
Means is remembering her son for being the kind of young person that supported others. Rice was an athlete who played how he lived — by supporting those around him, she and others say.
His community is remembering him that way as well. On Wednesday evening, hundreds of Rice's friends and acquaintances gathered at Bible Way Church on Atlas Road to hold a vigil. They released balloons in memory of the slain youth on a rain-filled day. But as they gathered, the rain passed.
At the vigil, his mother said Rice had probably made everyone there laugh.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department said it is still investigating what led to the shooting. The fight is not believed to be gang related, but evidence leads investigators to suspect that the confrontation was caused by several people settling a dispute, according to Capt. Maria Yturria of the sheriff's department.
Driven to "do better"
On Thursday, authorities arrested Shytori Nikia Davenport, 21, and charged him with murder in Rice's death.
The confrontation on May 10 was supposed to be a fist fight, but others brought a gun, according to Rice's mother, peers and a former coach. Rice was found shot near the Unity Missionary Baptist Church, his mother said.
Robert McCray, who coached Rice in basketball and football since he was 7, said Rice “loved, loved, loved his teammates.
“He was just that kind of kid — very caring.”
At Lower Richland, Rice was a point guard on the basketball team. He also played basketball for Team Wall, a team in the Amateur Athletic Union — a league often seen as a stepping stone to a college or professional career.
He was known for wearing number 10, along with his brother, Jakoby.
When Amon was a young child, whenever he was in a Walmart or drugstore, he’d go straight to the ball section, his mother remembers.
“His drive was he had to do better,” Means says. “If he was dribbling the ball and couldn’t get it to go through the legs, he’d sit there until he got it.”
Rice pushed his teams the same way he pushed himself, which, at times, caused his coaches to remind him who the actual coaches were, his mother said.
“If you were slack, he was fussing at you like he was the coach,“ Means says. “The kids say they’re going to miss that sportsmanship in him. ... He felt he had to protect the shorter kids because he was always so little.”
McCray witnessed the same determination and loyalty when Rice was on the field or the court.
“Whatever position you put him in, he played hard,” the coach says. “There’s a million stories you could tell. He was there for his teams always. If someone was on the ground, he runs and picks them up.”
Lower Richland's head boys basketball coach Caleb Gaither posted a tribute to Rice last weekend on Twitter.
"Rest in Heaven young fella," Gaither wrote May 12. "[I] will truly miss your competitive spirit, those big ole eyes and that smile. You’re in God’s backcourt now, the best of them all!"
"Work hard and follow dreams"
McCray, Rice's youth coach, said he heard that Rice went to Greenlake Drive out of a sense of fairness.
”[Rice] was just trying to get it solved,” McCray says. “Never thought it was going to be gunshots or anything. … That’s what cost him his life, taking up for someone.”
Another person was also shot that night and sustained an injury that wasnon-life threatening. That person, who was not identified, is out of the hospital, police said.
Means said after her son was shot, he was found by nearby people who asked if Amon wanted them to call his mother.
“He looked at her with a tear that fell out his eye and said ‘I want you to call my mama,’” Means told WIS-TV.
Means said she was upset that her son was abandoned by the people who came with him that night.
“They left my baby on the ground," she said. "That’s something I’ll never forget. Because Amon stood up for everybody around him.”
Means has heard that other kids in the community want to retaliate for Rice’s death. She’s pleading with them to not take action and to let the police and courts handle her son’s death.
Means, a local R&B singer, believes she passed her voice to her son. Around the house or in the car, Amon liked to sing two songs: Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and “I Got To” by T-Rell. He would sing the lyrics, “I got to get my mama out the hood. … Work hard and follow dreams, stick close to your team, I swear these streets is mean.”
“He would always sing that song and say that he’d do that one day,” she says.