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St. Petersburg police fatally shoot teenager at graduation party

ST. PETERSBURG — A police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old who was firing a gun outside a weekend high school graduation party, police said Sunday.

The shooting took place about 10:45 p.m. Saturday outside the Shining Light Masonic Lodge in the 3100 block of Freemont Terrace S, where several hundred teenagers had gathered for a party.

Police said so many teens showed up they spilled out into the streets, blocking traffic. In addition, neighbors complained about the noise, they said.

Several officers arrived and began walking down the street, asking people to get off the roadway or leave, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

"There were too many people, and residents were complaining about the loud party," he said.

Then, officers heard someone firing a gun.

Officer Terrance Nemeth saw Javon Dawson fire the gun, then approach and challenge Nemeth several times, Proffitt said. According to initial reports, Dawson leveled the gun at the officer.

That's when Nemeth, 24, fired at Dawson, Proffitt said.

Dawson was hit twice but ran and collapsed in a yard at the home of Jennifer Bowens, a block from the lodge. Police recovered a revolver at the scene.

Bowens, 40, said she heard multiple shots outside her home.

She turned off the lights and instructed her 12-year-old son and 11-year-old nephew to get on the floor. Then she peeked outside to see what was going on.

"When I looked out the window, he was just lying there. I don't know if he was trying to get to my door or just trying to get around (the house)," Bowens said. "I just went hysterical. I see him lying there, and he's not moving and I'm like, 'That's somebody's child.' "

Bowens and other neighbors said the area is generally quiet. People often rent out the one-story yellow lodge building for birthday parties and family reunions, they said.

After the shooting, the crowd scattered. By 12:30 a.m., the scene was quiet, Proffitt said. "The crowd dispersed so quickly that many of the witnesses we were looking for left."

Officer Nemeth, is on leave while the department investigates the shooting, which is standard procedure. The Police Department's homicide unit, internal affairs unit and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office are investigating the incident.

St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon said he would watch the progress of the investigations.

"From what I'm being told at this point, I don't necessarily have a lot of reservations about the shooting, but I'm going to wait until all the facts are in," he said.

"My thoughts go out to the young man's family," he said.

Dawson had just completed his sophomore year at Gibbs High School, said principal Antelia Campbell.

Campbell went to the scene about 12:30 a.m. Sunday after she received a text message about the shooting.

Campbell said Dawson was "a good kid" she often spoke to in the cafeteria. It was not the news she wanted to hear as summer is just getting under way, she said.

"School hasn't even been out a week," she said.

Cattrell Bacon, 14, who attended Gibbs with Dawson until February when she transferred to Northeast High School, said Dawson was quiet, funny and did not get in trouble.

"He was a good boy. He was a class clown," Bacon said.

Bacon didn't attend Saturday night's party but said she was at a different graduation party at the same lodge on Friday night. There were gunshots that night too, she said.

Bacon said she had received several text messages throughout the day from friends, like this one: "RIP to my dawg Javon."

"It was shocking to me to find out he was dead. It's crazy," Bacon said.

A check with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement by the St. Petersburg Times revealed no arrests for Dawson.

On his MySpace page, Dawson went by the name "Hollyhood" and posted photographs of himself shirtless. By Sunday evening, several friends had changed their profile names to honor him.

The International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement will lead a demonstration today from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. at the Police Department, 1300 First Ave N, said representative Nyabinga Dzimbahwe.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 4454162.

St. Petersburg police fatally shoot teenager at graduation party 06/08/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 11:40pm]
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