ALTON • Sonya Dixon’s teenage son rushed into their apartment Monday evening to tell her his younger brother, Romell, fell and was knocked out while ducking gunfire outside.
Dixon’s son told her someone carried Romell L. Jones, 11, into the recreation center across the street but wasn’t hit. When she found him lying on a table unconscious in his bright orange hooded sweatshirt, she couldn’t immediately see what was wrong.
“I’m saying, ‘Romell! Romell! Romell!’ and he wasn’t saying anything,” said Dixon, 29. “As I’m looking and yelling, I see blood coming through the hoodie. I kept saying, ‘I love you,’ and kept calling his name. As much as I prayed, I knew my baby was gone.”
Romell had just dropped off his book bag at home before heading out to the recreation center with a friend to wait for a ride to basketball practice, his mother said. He was on the recreation center parking lot about 5:15 p.m. Monday when he was fatally shot in the Alton Acres housing complex.
The shooting was in the middle of the housing complex, at Paul and Acorn streets, said Madison County Sheriff’s Department Maj. Jeff Connor, who is heading the investigation. Romell was taken to St. Anthony’s Health Center in Alton where he was later pronounced dead of a single bullet wound to the chest.
Police believe the shots came from a passing red car that was traveling on Paul Avenue. A shooter fired several shots from the car toward several people outside the recreation center, police said. Authorities offered no description of the shooter.
Romell was the third-oldest of nine siblings. He was a fifth-grader at Gilson Brown Elementary School in Alton, where his family says he earned good grades.
He “was very well-liked by teachers and his classmates,” Paul Berghoff, one of his teachers, said in a statement released by the district. “He was happy, sensitive and an excellent student.”
Romell’s family said “Mel” joined the Future All-Star youth basketball program run by the Alton housing authority last summer, and loved playing guard for the team.
“He wanted to grow up, have a lot of money and be a basketball player,” his mother said.
His other passion was dancing, his mother said. His favorite songs to dance to were iHeart Memphis’ “Hit The Quan Dance,” and Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).”
Earthera Norman, the recreation center director who lives in the complex, said residents of the complex are devastated by Romell’s death.
“There was no way this kid should have walked in his house, said ‘Hi, mom,’ and then come out and get shot like that,” Norman said. “He was an awesome kid.”
Romell’s mother said she had heard that some teenagers were insulting each other over Facebook and that one of them posted a threat online about coming to Alton Acres to start shooting. Dixon said her son was not the target of alleged Facebook threats or the gunfire.
Police said they had also heard those rumors and were investigating them.
Denise Pedrero, 21, of Alton, one of Romell’s cousins, stopped by the one-story apartment Tuesday where Romell lived with his mother and siblings. When she left the home, Pedrero had tears streaming down her cheeks. “We just need to stop the violence,” she said.
Romell’s mother said she is praying for an arrest in her son’s killing and for those responsible to surrender to police.
“I just want justice for my son,” Dixon said. “My baby, he will always be my basketball player in my eyes. Romell will always be with me for eternity.”
On Tuesday, a half-dozen stuffed animals and some flowers sat on the parking lot where Romell was shot. A fundraising account was set up for Romell’s family at gofundme.com/jw589cfh. The family had not begun funeral arrangements Tuesday.
Authorities asked anyone with information about the shooting to contact the Major Case Squad at the police department at 618-463-3505.
Kim Bell and Valerie Schremp Hahn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.