Originally created 01/01/06

Jackson teen dies after shot to chest



JACKSON - Police charged a man Saturday in the shooting death of a 16-year-old Silver Bluff High School student.

Vernon Ryans Jr., 18, of the 300 block of South Hankinson Street, was charged with possession of a firearm by a person younger than 21 and is being held in the Aiken County Detention Center.

Jackson Police Chief Dennis Rushton said Saturday that the shooting appears to be accidental.

Justin Brown, 16, of the 100 block of Douse Circle, died Friday after he was shot once in the chest, the chief said. Justin, who has never been in trouble with the law, was hanging out with friends in a vacant lot on Hankinson Street when the shooting occurred.

Mr. Ryans told the chief that he brought the handgun to the lot to show it off and that Justin reached for the weapon and it fired.

The police still don't have the gun.

Mr. Ryans "hasn't given up the gun yet," Chief Rushton said. "He admitted he had it, but he doesn't want to tell us where it's at."

Mr. Ryans will likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter when the case is brought before the Aiken County Solicitor's Office on Tuesday, Chief Rushton said.

Bail could be set for Mr. Ryans as early as today, Chief Rushton said.

On Saturday, Justin's family and relatives described a quiet and humble young man who enjoyed singing in the church choir.

Charles Williams, an uncle who lives in Aiken, said he remembers seeing Justin alive for the last time before the shooting.

"It happened so quick, you know, I saw him when I came in, as usual, just out there with the guys," Mr. Williams said before breaking down in tears.

"You could never ask for a more humble child, everything was 'yes ma'am,' 'no ma'am,' 'yes sir,' 'no sir,'" Mr. Williams said. "He never bothered anybody."

Justin, a junior at Silver Bluff, was active in high school and recreation league sports, his grandmother Polly Brown said.

Minister Cheryl Sanders, a cousin, said Justin was active in the church and choir at Bean Pond Baptist Church in Jackson.

"It's just a tragic loss," she said. "We're like family in this community. We just believe God will give us strength to get through this."

Brandy Sanders, a cousin, said she has many memories of growing up with Justin.

"He was shy," Brandy said. "He always tried to help you. We were in the same grade and we were going to graduate together."

Justin had just gotten his learner's permit and was starting to drive.

"He looked forward to getting his license real soon," Mrs. Sanders said.

But Justin's plans ended in the vacant lot. And now his family and community are left to mourn, taking comfort in the faith Justin possessed.

"We have a prayer group that comes around and prays in the neighborhood," Mrs. Sanders said. "A lot of the kids ran away, and they didn't want to be prayed for, but Justin was like, 'I'll stay, pray for me.'"

Reach Nathan Dickinson at (803) 648-1395 or nathan.dickinson@augustachronicle.com.