Teen charged in Chattanooga slaying

photo Lonta Burress

Laronda Townsend still hears her son's voice calling out to her from a dark, dead-end street.

Police are keeping her back, and her son, 17-year-old Darrius Townsend, is bleeding from two gunshot wounds to the head and back. He later died at Erlanger hospital after he was shot June 1.

"It just plays back," she said.

On Sunday, another teen - one of her son's childhood friends - was charged in connection with Townsend's death.

Lonta Burress Jr., also 17, was arrested at his grandmother's residence and charged with criminal homicide. Burress, who remained in jail on a $1 million bond Monday, is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County General Sessions Court at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Burress already had a violent arrest record before being charged in Townsend's death. He is accused of firing into a crowd of people on Through Street in December and later was charged with three counts of aggravated assault and possession of a deadly weapon in connection with the incident. The case is still pending in Juvenile Court, according to records.

He and Townsend grew up in the same area, and they were classmates and childhood friends, Townsend's mother said.

"I don't understand. I used to feed this child. He spent the night at my house," she said. "It's sad you can't trust a friend you grew up with."

A witness told police he watched Burress stand over Townsend in the 900 block of Taylor Street. Townsend was lying on the street with his hands in the air and said, "Don't do me like this man," according to the arrest report.

Besides being friends, the teens had other things in common. Both of their fathers did time in prison. Both teens were familiar with street life.

Darrius Townsend - known as Dee - was arrested on a cocaine charge in February, the result of his attempts to support his family by dealing drugs, his mother said. She insists that he learned his lesson, and she was trying to get him out of their home in Woodlawn Apartments, a neighborhood known for drug deals, gang members and gunshots.

"If we could get out from around here, we would be all right," she said.

But crime was all around Townsend. His father remains in prison and is scheduled to be released in January 2013, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction website. His grandfather is in prison. His uncle is in prison.

The odds weren't in his favor. At 17, he already was the father of a 3-year-old boy.

And then there were the gangs, which always are on the lookout for new members. They approached Townsend, his mother said.

"When they came to him ... he said, 'I'm my own man. I stand on my 10 toes by myself. I was born by myself. I'm going to die by myself. I don't need for nobody to stand behind me," Townsend's mother said.

"I'm behind you," she told him.

As to why Burress might want to shoot her son, she only has suspicions and stories from the neighborhood.

Burress' cousin, Chris Burress, was arrested with Townsend in connection with an aggravated robbery in November, according to police reports. Townsend's mother said there were reports that her son snitched on Burress over the robbery charge, which she does not believe.

There are other reports that he was shot and cash was removed from his pocket, while dime-sized bags of drugs remained, she said.

And the story that seems the most likely to her is that her son was killed as part of the rank-climbing rituals of a gang.

Townsend's mother scraped together money for funeral expenses after setting up an account at a SunTrust bank on Brainerd Road. She dreams of starting an anti-violence nonprofit in his memory.

"He's in a better place. I don't have to worry about anyone saying Dee did this or Dee did that," she said.

But she continues to mourn.

"It's hard. These days go by. They just go by and I don't see his smile."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6406.