RIVERVIEW — An 18-year-old Durant High School senior looking forward to walking across the stage at his graduation was shot and killed early Sunday at a classmate's party.
Devante Lamar Dallas hadn't planned on attending the graduation and birthday bash at the Winthrop Barn and Theater on Bloomingdale Avenue, but decided at the last minute to go.
Shortly before 1 a.m., a fight broke out at the party, which had grown to about 300 people, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff report. Sometime during that brawl, a teen started firing a gun into the crowd. Three people were struck by bullets.
Late Sunday, authorities said they had arrested the suspected shooter, 18-year-old Khayri Rashaad McCray of Tampa.
The Spoto High senior was charged with murder in the second degree and two counts of attempted murder.
As partygoers scurried, Dallas cried out that he had been shot. But he kept running, said cousin Thomas Robinson, 19, who wrapped an arm around Dallas and saw blood.
Dallas died at the scene. He didn't know the shooter, his mother, Sunceray Dean said Sunday afternoon. She noted that her son appeared to have been struck from behind as he was running.
Two other men who were shot, Jeffrey Thomas, 41, and De Ron Richardson, 20, both of Valrico, were transported to a local hospital where they were treated and released.
Thomas was among the parents who had rented the space for a graduation party, authorities said. On Sunday afternoon, a young man who answered the door at his Valrico house declined to comment.
Authorities said the shooting suspect contacted them on Sunday as their investigation progressed. He said he was with his parents and wanted to meet with detectives.
McCray was arrested around 8 p.m. As he arrived at the jail, the slender teen in a striped, blue polo shirt looked at a television camera and said he didn't do it. Authorities planned to hold him without bail.
Deputies still did not know what caused the shooting, but said words were exchanged between McCray and other teens at the party, which led to the confrontation. Previously, McCray had been arrested three times in Florida on misdemeanor charges of theft and larceny.
The Winthrop social hall, consisting of a theater and event pavilion, is frequently used for weddings, business and club meetings and community events. At this party, authorities said the original plan was to have about 70 people in attendance.
"Obviously, someone got on their cell phone and this thing grew way out of hand," said sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon. "Three hundred people showed up, which were not part of the invites and of course when a party gets that size, involving teens, this happens."
School officials made plans to have grief counselors at Durant High School this morning.
In the tight-knit Bealsville community of east Hillsborough, friends and family mourned a local football player known for his quiet good manners.
Called "Tae" by his friends and family, Dallas had finished his course work in Durant early in December, according to his mother. But he was eager to walk across the stage with the rest of the Class of 2010.
She had already printed invitations, featuring her handsome son in a tuxedo. The graduation ceremony was to begin at 7 p.m. June 4 at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
Dallas was the only one of his friends who stayed in school and made it to graduation, she said. This past week, he received a student ID from Hillsborough Community College, where he was planning to study radiology.
"I called him nonchalant. He dealt with stuff when it came, and he didn't stay mad," said Dean, 37, describing her son as "plain and simple."
"He was 'yes, ma'am, no, ma'am,' " she said. "And you would see that dimple."
Dallas helped to care for his 3-year-old brother. His 12-year-old sister, Infinity Dean, remembered how he would take her out to eat at McDonald's and walk her to the park.
To a neighbor, he was a good hugger. To his on-and-off girlfriend, he was full of sweetness, love and the occasional side-splitting joke. To his grandmother, he was always polite.
His cousin, Robinson, kept thinking about the smiling photos that he and Dallas had been taking earlier that night.
"Everybody just kept saying he didn't deserve it," his mother said.
Times researchers Shirl Kennedy and John Martin contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322.