COLUMBIA — Weeks later, friends and teachers at Douglass High School are still trying to make sense of the tragedy that happened the night 17-year-old DeAudre Johnson was shot to death.
Johnson was shot March 12 near Douglass Park. Police said the gunman was not aiming for Johnson, but at the person standing next to him. He died the following morning at University Hospital, and friends and family held a candlelight vigil in his honor.
As one of Johnson’s best friends, Douglass High senior Quadree Rudd was among those hit hardest by the loss. Grief painted his face as he worked through his words.
“Things happened that weren’t supposed to happen,” Rudd, 18, said. “He was a good person. He was loyal. He made me laugh.”
On Friday morning, Douglass High students and staff came together to memorialize Johnson with a photo they took for the yearbook. A page dedicated to him will show his friends wearing a black and white T-shirt with his photo on the front, and a poem by classmate Quine Lambert on the back called “Forever Missing You.”
“He was a real sweetheart, we really loved him,” said Donna Blauch, one of his teachers. “And this is our way of saying that to everyone — to honor his memory and for his mom to see how loved he was.”
Douglass High has tried to be as supportive as possible. With a small student body, everyone knew Johnson, and he was well-liked by his classmates.
"We don't shove it under the rug if they want to talk about him," another of his teachers, Susan Wier, said. "We don't try to make them forget."
The school organized a bus to transport students to his funeral, and they were excused from their makeup work for the day. The school also plans to present Johnson's family with a commemorative plaque.
"It takes a chunk out of the teachers' hearts," Blauch said. "There is only so much you can do during school, and there is a lot of stuff you can't do to protect our kids. It's very hard to lose a student."
Johnson was close with Blauch and Wier. They remember him always smiling.
"He was just an average teenager," Wier said. "He was really quiet. He was a smart boy. Sometimes he'd come in really silly, giggly. He had a good sense of humor, and he got along well with everybody."
Teachers at Douglass High are trying to use this tragedy of the boy who "was never in a bad mood" as a way to engage and counsel their students about their safety and future. At the Armory, where Johnson spent long hours playing basketball, wristbands printed with "Remember DeAudre...No More" show a community fed up with violent crime.
At first, teachers worried that Johnson's death would provoke even more violence, but Wier said they are trying their best to help shorten the stage of anger in their students' grieving process.
"You gotta just remember the good times," Rudd said. "I do have some nights that I think about it too much and get angry, but you just gotta keep thinking about the good things and try to move on."
Blauch called former Missouri football player Michael Egnew to talk to the students about making goals, being respectful and owning some personal responsibility.
"(Those) are three values that I'm going to hold until I die," he said. "It's how I became successful."
In other words, "No excuses."
But in order for the violence to stop, everyone in the community needs to change, not just the students, Wier said. That change involves doing more than just watching for crime — reporting crime is just as important.
"I know there is the whole no snitching thing, but at the end of the day, when people are dead and you have a mother who is without her child, then you are almost as guilty as that person that took part in that, if you are trying to cover it up," she said.
Blauch said for anything to be different, it has to start from the "ground up."
"It starts with people being parents again — knowing where your kids are and what they are doing," Blauch said. "And not being so accepting of violence, not thinking, 'Oh, that's just the way it is.'"
But when violence takes an innocent bystander near his high school, people take notice.
"Young people are usually naive and think something like this could never happen to them," Wier said. "But now they know someone it did happen to, to someone who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Rudd said that shortly after his friend died, his mom talked to him about watching who he hangs around with and leaving quickly if he sees trouble brewing.
"I think about it," Rudd said, "but I still go where I go."
Blauch said that many of the parents have had talks with their children since Johnson's death, but the effect may only be momentary.
"I think at first it helps, but then you tend to go back to your old ways," Blauch said. "But how many more people have to die before it changes?"