MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Six teenagers are charged with reckless homicide in the beating death of an eighth-grader who agreed to fight in hopes of joining a gang, authorities said Thursday.
Tarus DeShawn Williams, 15, was killed at Westside High School on Tuesday.
“To join the gang, you had to engage in a fight,” said District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. “And it was a fight that got out of hand.”
A medical examiner said Williams died from a blow to the chest that crushed the left chamber of his heart. No weapons were used during the fight, authorities said.
Williams was found unconscious in a school restroom and pronounced dead a short time later at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center.
Gibbons said he and other law enforcement officers often speak at Memphis schools warning youngsters to stay away from gangs.
“Part of my message to students is if they become involved in gang activities, it’s very likely the outcome will be either time in prison or an early trip to the cemetery,” Gibbons said.
Westside has 670 students in grades 7 through 12. The youngsters charged in Williams’ death range in age from 13 to 15. They were taken into Juvenile Court custody and face imprisonment until age 18 if found guilty as charged.
They cannot be tried in adult court on reckless homicide charges since they are under 16.
Gibbons said the teenagers all were part of the initiation and can be held equally responsible for Williams’ death regardless of who delivered the killing blow.
“That action resulted in a reckless act—the fight in the bathroom—making them all criminally responsible,” he said.
Williams family has said he was not part of a gang and had no desire to join one. He was described by classmates as quiet and friendly.
“This was a gang initiation for him to join the gang. It is our contention, based on the evidence we have at this point, that he consented to this initiation,” Gibbons said. “But he did not consent to a level of violence that would result in death.”
Charged are Artavius Branch, 13, Tyrus Strong, 13, Damien Farmen, 13, Antonio Taylor, 14, Jeremy Henderson, 15, and Mack Lewis, 15.