The violent death of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. has divided the community surrounding Austin-East Magnet High School, prompting countless online feuds and even death threats.
Now, authorities are conducting an arson investigation at the home of Thompson’s girlfriend and her mother, Regina Perkins, who has emerged as a controversial figure in the case.
The incident happened about 4:40 p.m. Sunday at the house that Perkins shares with her children on Selma Ave. The family apparently wasn’t home at the time, and Knoxville fire and police units found the fire had already been extinguished by a neighbor, reports show.
Fletcher and Bobbie Grady, who live across the street, were getting ready to eat a meal when suddenly Bobbie saw flames rising from the front porch and told her husband.
“We don’t really know what happened,” Fletcher said. “I just ran across the street and saw that something was burning and there was a gas can just lying there on its side. I kicked the gas can off the porch and just stomped out the fire.”
The couple said they didn’t see anyone approach or leave the house.
A security camera mounted on the porch, however, captured images of a suspect setting the fire, police said. The suspect was described as a Black male wearing a face mask and grey shirt along with yellow shorts, white socks and white-and-gray shoes.
Perkins’s daughter and Thompson were both juniors at Austin-East on April 12 when Thompson physically assaulted the girl at school. She was so upset that she left school early, and when she got home Perkins called the police to report the domestic assault. Perkins also texted Thompson several times to let him know that he was barred from her property and the police were on their way for him.
About 3:15 p.m., Thompson was confronted by four Knoxville Police Department officers. He struggled with the officers, one hand clutching a pistol in the front pocket of his hoodie, until the firearm discharged and one round narrowly missed one of the officers. Another officer then drew his pistol and fired twice, killing Thompson and injuring one of his fellow officers.
The officers have been cleared of wrongdoing for their roles in Thompson’s shooting by the TBI and DA Charme Allen. Video was also released from the officers’ bodycams showing both the fatal struggle and the earlier conversation between Perkins and one of the officers from when she successfully sought to press charges against Thompson.
Although they’ve been cleared of having broken state law, the officers still face an internal investigation focused on whether they violated departmental rules. Also, Thompson’s family has hired a prominent civil rights attorney.
Tensions in the city have increased steadily since the shooting, with frequent protests and a steady exchange of hostilities via social media between factions backing various figures connected to the case. Perkins has been a favored target, with some people calling her a “murderer” because she reported her daughter’s injuries to authorities and taunted Thompson via text messages as the police prepared to arrest him.
She tried to raise money via GoFundMe, a fundraising website, but the campaign abruptly disappeared last week.
Perkins couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Around the time of the fire, Perkins created a second account on GoFundMe entitled “Help Regina Keep Her Kids Safe.” The site had raised only $320 of its stated $5,000 goal as of late Wednesday.
“Since the events of April 12 my home has been threatened and is no longer safe for my children to live in after DA released footage of my home when a police report was made for domestic violence between my daughter and a young man was made,” Perkins wrote in her plea for help on the recreated GoFundMe campaign.
“I have received several threats daily and fear for the safety of my children!” she continued. “I simply was trying to do as I was told to get a protection order against this young man to stop a 8 month long toxic physical relationship between the young man and my 17 year old daughter. I did what any mother should have done!”
She concluded: “We are displaced and separated at the moment due to the safety of my family so please help bring my family together as we need one another! The donations will be used to relocate my family and cost of moving.”
Thompson’s death was only the most recent tragedy in the midst of an unprecedented surge of deadly violence that has touched almost every corner of the city.
There were 37 homicides in Knoxville in 2020, more than the previous high of 35 in 1998.
Since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been at least 16 slayings in the city, all of them involving firearms. There have been at least five more homicides in the unincorporated areas of Knox County under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.
The community surrounding Austin-East has been hit particularly hard. Thus far, five students have been killed by gunfire this semester, climaxing with Thompson’s slaying in the school itself. Prior to that, none of the students had been killed on school property or in encounters with law enforcement.
.Justin Taylor, 15, was accidentally shot and killed by a friend Jan. 27. Stanley Freeman Jr., 16, was killed Feb. 12 as he was driving away from the Austin-East campus, and 15-year-old Janaria Muhammad was fatally shot outside her home on Feb. 16. Jamarion “Lil Dada” Gillette died early March 11 at a local hospital, several hours after he was brought in by a motorist who found him suffering from a gunshot wound in South Knoxville.
J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on April 29, 2021.