GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The family of a young man who was shot to death in Gulfport on Wednesday says they have fears of retaliation. They are pleading for peace.
A day after Stanton Saunders' death, a makeshift memorial marked the area on 34th Ave. where he was found. People have placed flowers, balloons and wrote messages on the vase.
"He's going to be missed. We're going to miss him a lot," said Jakyra Mitchell as she broke down in tears.
Grief overcame Mitchell, a close friend of Saunders. The two hung out with each other every day.
"It was heartbreaking. It just felt like I didn't understand. Why would they do that to him? Stan loved everybody. He brought so much joy to people, and he wasn't the type to be violent," said Mitchell.
Saunders was shot in the chest and collapsed on 34th Ave. Police said it appeared he was running away from someone.
Saunders died 40 minutes later at Memorial Hospital. His mom remembered the moment the coroner said her 21-year-old son was gone.
"I was so overwhelmed. I think I almost passed out. At times, I say, 'Oh, it's not real,' but I know it's real, and sometimes I get heartbroken and cry a lot," said Vanessa Smith.
Smith said as news of her son's death spread, so did talk of retaliation.
"There were some words last night that some of the people wanting to go out and find this person, but we told them not to. Just calm down and just let the police department to their job. It's in their hands," said Smith.
Saunders' family said they don't want his death to spark more violence. Instead, Smith is urging anyone with thoughts of taking action to keep love, peace and prayer in their hearts.
The family is also asking everyone to remember Saunders as a West Harrison High School graduate with big dreams of one day going to LSU and playing football, a dad who adored his 2-year-old son, King, and a baby girl on the way.
"That's the hardest for me, him not being able to, them not seeing their dad, but we're going to keep it alive and let them know he was a good person," said Mitchell.
Funeral arrangements are still pending. To help with expenses, a family friend is hosting a fish fry this Saturday at the First Stop Store on 42nd St. and Old Pass Rd. It starts at 10 a.m.
Then, on Sunday, there will be a candlelight vigil for Saunders. The event will be on the beach at Courthouse Rd. starting at 6 p.m.