Fourth Austin-East student shot to death

This poster was circulated after Jamarion Gillette, 15, escaped from a state-run residential facility last October. He was still technically registered as a student at Austin-East. Police haven’t said If they have any clues as to where he was staying while on runaway status.

A 15-year-old Austin-East Magnet High School student died from a gunshot wound early Wednesday morning at a Knoxville hospital.

He was the fourth teenager, all of whom attended Austin-East, to die from gun violence in the city since late January. 

The victim was Jamarion Gillette, 15.

Gillette had attended Knox County Schools since he was in elementary school and was registered at Austin-East but last attended classes there on Sept. 22, said KCS spokeswoman Carly Harrington.

School system officials said they didn’t know why he stopped going to classes, she said.

He was apparently living in Crossville a month later but soon went missing and was listed as a runaway child, according to law enforcement sources. He was believed to be traveling back and forth to Knoxville while on runaway status.

Officials from the Crossville Police Department, who have been searching for him since he was reported missing, declined Wednesday to release any information from the missing person report.

Gillette arrived in a private vehicle at the University of Tennessee Medical Center about 11:22 p.m. Tuesday, according to Knoxville Police Department Chief Eve Thomas.

Gillette was suffering from a gunshot wound, and police investigators were notified about 5:45 a.m. Wednesday that he’d died from his injuries, she said.

Investigators tried to speak to Gillette, but were unable to gather any information.

“He’d already been taken into surgery,” Thomas said. “We couldn’t talk to him when we got there.”

Gillette had been brought to the emergency room by a woman who’d come across the wounded teen while driving on nearby Cherokee Trail, Thomas said.

Investigators haven’t been able to determine where the teen was shot, she said.

“This remains a very active and fluid investigation,” Thomas said. “We are still working to piece this together.”

There were reports of shots being fired around 10:30 p.m. at an apartment complex near KPD headquarters on Howard Baker Jr. Avenue. Several spent rounds were recovered but no victims were found, and investigators couldn’t say if there was any connection to Gillette’s shooting.

As is the case many nights, the call to the apartment complex wasn’t the only such incident.

“We had several ‘shots fired’ calls from across the city during the night,” KPD spokesman Scott Erland said.

Erland didn’t say how many times Gillette had been shot. He said that no firearm had been recovered from the teen.

The Austin-East community is still very much in mourning over last month’s loss of 16-year-old Stanley Freeman Jr., who was killed while leaving school, and 15-year-old Janaria Muhammad, who was shot outside her home. Justin Taylor, 15, was accidentally shot and killed by a friend in January.

Authorities were still looking for the killers of Freeman and Muhammad when Gillette was slain. There were no indications that the victims knew each other, according to police.

No witnesses have come forward with information, prompting the FBI to offer a $5,000 reward. 

The incidents involving Austin-East students were only the most recent tragedies in the midst of an unprecedented surge of deadly violence that has touched almost every corner of the city.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon had a message for the families of the victims as the city tries to rein in gun violence.

“We are working on this,” she said. “This is not your fault. This is not your fight.”

There were 37 homicides in the city in 2020, more than the previous high of 35 in 1998.

Since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been 14 slayings, all of them involving firearms. In comparison, there were only six homicides as of this time last year.

Residents of East Knoxville, where violent crime has been a relatively common occurrence for several decades, have staged several memorials and community meetings demanding different police tactics and more social programs.

Kincannon has promised to bring in experts in reducing street violence and earmarked at least $1 million in emergency funding to combat the deadly trend.

Anyone with information regarding the shootings is urged to call the KPD Crime and Drug Hotline at 865-215-7212. Tips can be submitted anonymously.

Published on March 10, 2021