ABOVE PHOTO: Officers arrest suspect Willie Corey Godbolt on Sunday, May 28, 2017, following several fatal shootings Saturday in Lincoln County, Miss., officials said. (Therese Apel/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)
By Emily Wagster Pettus
BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — It was after midnight when a gunman burst into the living room of a southern Mississippi home where young people were playing video games.
Caleb Edwards, 15, said the man – whom he knows as Corey Godbolt – demanded to know where his cousin’s parents were. Jordan Blackwell, 18, said they were gone to another town.
At that, Godbolt “just started shooting,” Caleb said.
As people scrambled to hide inside the Brookhaven home, Blackwell used his own body to shield his cousin Caleb from the gunfire.
With his mother standing by his side Monday, Caleb spoke calmly as he recounted to The Associated Press how he felt the force of the impact as Blackwell was shot Sunday.
“He loved me enough to take some bullets for me,” Caleb said.
Caleb’s 11-year-old brother, Austin Edwards, was also shot to death in that living room early Sunday. They were among the eight people killed in three houses in a rampage that started late Saturday after law enforcement officers were called about a domestic dispute. A deputy sheriff was among those killed. The other seven were all relatives or acquaintances of the man accused of the shooting.
Investigators said Willie Corey Godbolt, 35, will be charged with one count of capital murder and seven counts of first degree murder. Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said the charges could change as the investigation continues.
Godbolt had been hospitalized for a gunshot wound and was released Tuesday; it wasn’t clear who shot him, but investigators say it wasn’t the police. He was awaiting for an initial court appearance to be scheduled.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation identified some of the slain as Barbara Mitchell, 55; Brenda May, 53; Tocarra May, 35; Ferral Burage, 45; Shelia Burage, 46; and Deputy William Durr, 36. The parents of Austin Edwards and Jordan Blackwell identified their sons as the other victims.
Brookhaven is a south Mississippi city surrounded by pine trees and rolling green pastures. The outbreak of violence has shaken the county of 34,500 residents.
More than a dozen people stood in the driveway of Edwards’ and Blackwell’s grandparents Monday afternoon and joined hands for prayer.
“We need you, oh God, to be with this family in their grief,” said Richard Thomas, pastor of New Home Church of Christ Holiness.
Jordan Blackwell played linebacker for the Brookhaven High football team. As he prepared for his senior year, two universities and a nearby community college had already expressed interest in him, said his mother, Tiffany Blackwell. She and her husband, Shon, described their son as cheerful and unselfish. She said Jordan dreamed of getting a Camaro for high school graduation.
Tears rolled down one cheek Monday as Tiffany Blackwell described coming home and finding her son dead.
“When I walked in the house and saw my child lying there, I just thought he was sleeping,” she said. “I told him to wake up. I told him to get up, but he wouldn’t move.”
Caleb described his younger brother, Austin, as “a happy kid” who liked to play and cook.
Caleb said after his brother was shot, “I thought I was going to die.”
Godbolt showed up at Vincent Mitchell’s Bogue Chitto home before midnight Saturday to demand that his estranged wife give up their two children. She and the children had been staying with them for about three weeks, Mitchell told AP.
“He’d come to get his kids. The deputy was called,” and asked him to leave, and it seemed like Godbolt would comply at first, Mitchell said.
“He acted like, motioned like, he was fixing to go. Then he reached in his back pocket and grabbed a gun,” Mitchell said. “He just started shooting everything.”
Mitchell said he escaped along with Godbolt’s wife, but Mitchell’s wife, her sister and one of the wife’s daughters were killed. Authorities said Godbolt fled and killed four more people at two other homes.
At least seven hours elapsed between the first shootings and Godbolt’s arrest near the final crime scene, in a subdivision of ranch houses.
The deputy had worked in Christian ministry before going into law enforcement and liked doing puppet shows to deliver uplifting messages to children. Durr was married and had an 11-year-old son. His mother spoke briefly with the AP on Monday, saying that the family is still in distress.
“He was a good Christian man,” Debbie Durr said at her rural home near Brookhaven. “He was a youth minister and a pastor before going into law enforcement.”
Godbolt told The Clarion-Ledger that he hadn’t planned to be captured alive.
“My intentions was to have God kill me. I ran out of bullets,” he said. “Suicide by cop was my intention.”
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