Family, friends honor Jazmine Shelton at funeral
Slain girls' families make emotional plea for help finding shooters
JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Family and friends of one of the two innocent teenage girls killed in a shooting spree early Saturday morning gathered Friday afternoon to remember her as she was laid to rest.
Meanwhile, whoever is responsible for killing 13-year-old Jazmine Shelton and her 14-year-old best friend, Megan Simmons, is still on the loose. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the Justice Coalition and members of the victims' families held an emotional news conference Friday morning, announcing an increased, combined reward of $10,000.
Simmons' mother, grandmother and aunt, along with Shelton's grandmother, grandfather and uncle all spoke publicly for the first time.
They made tearful pleas for help from the public and said they can't rest until an arrest is made. They also spoke about how devastating it has been for their families.
"Megan was my daughter," Kylie Simmons said while crying. "I am begging if anybody knows anything to please come forward. I need to know who done this to my child. She's all I had."
"Please help us find these criminals," said Brenda Starling, Shelton's grandmother. "These children did not deserve to die this way. They deserve life. They had so much ahead of them. Please, please come forward."
Police also made another plea for help, saying they had no new information to help them break open the case.
The Justice Coalition is offering a $5,000 reward, and Crime Stoppers is offering up to $4,000 in reward money. And whoever turns the shooters in could have the possibility of getting a gun bounty of up to $1,000, making the grand total for reward money for an arrest and conviction $10,000.
The list of young Jacksonville murder victims has been growing in recent months, heartbreaking crimes that just stun the community. Pastor Steve Dobbs at Paxon Revival Center Church officiated Shelton's funeral, the fifth young murder victim to be remembered at his church in recent months.
The same church that has held funerals for Cherish Perrywinkle, Matthew and Andrew Bohannon and Shelby Farah.
"The very first thing they say is, 'Pastor, why did it happen?' They want to know why," Dobbs said. "Why does beautiful 13-year-old girl -- in her own house, minding her own business, playing with her friend -- have to lose her life."
Simmons' family decided to donate her organs, so they have not been able to set up her funeral yet. They said when it does happen, it will be at Westside Baptist Church, possibly next week.
"She was a fighter. She fought until she couldn't fight anymore," Simmons' aunt, Neta Sessions, said. "God had greater plans for her. Now my family's focus is to get justice for these two girls."
Shelton and Simmons were killed when police say dozens of bullets were fired into the Shelton home on Missouri Avenue in Northwest Jacksonville. Investigators are frustrated that no one has come forward with the information they need to catch the killer or killers.
"The murderers got to stop," Dobbs said. "And I really believe it starts in the family. It stops within the church, it stops with the leaders of the community."
Dobbs says the ultimate solution is through a moral, spiritual one.
Those who knew Shelton remembered her for her perkiness and kind heart.
"She had a smile that I don't think ever left her face," family friend AJ Bethune said. "She had energy, energy, energy."
Thursday night, several people joined Jazmine's mother in front of the mobile home that was shot up for a candlelight vigil.
"It's important we pray over our kids, because you never know when that child walks out that will be the last time you ever see that child," Dobbs said. "I know that's not what we think and plan, not in America."
Simmons was supposed to start at Lakeshore K-8 next week as an eighth grader. Shelton was set to go to the same school as a sixth grader.
"I couldn't be more proud of her accomplishments, the young woman she became," one of Shelton's elementary school teachers said Friday. "Jazmine will be greatly missed by not only myself, but all of her Hyde Park (Elementary) family."
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