Javonne Davis stood out in ways not typical of a 15-year-old high school freshman.
The Camden High School ninth grader dreamed of becoming a barber, but first he wanted a Rutgers University business degree. He also wanted to play professional football. On the field he was an "animal" — feared as a lineman for his speed and strength, said coach Carl Davis Jr. of the Staley Park Panthers, a community football program that mentors youths, teaching them life skills and leadership.
On Tuesday afternoon, Javonne Davis was fatally shot when a fight that started inside Camden High after the school day ended spilled onto the street around the corner from campus, authorities said. A gunman fired several shots at him, leaving him for dead at Princess and Euclid Avenues, according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Police found him bleeding from several wounds shortly after 3:30 p.m. The youth was pronounced dead at Cooper University Hospital about an hour later. He was the 18th homicide in the city this year, officials said. Authorities said they were still investigating the shooting, but declined to elaborate.
Despite living through years of relentless stress from deaths in the family and homelessness, Javonne was optimistic, said his mother, Jamie Utley, 40. Rutgers selected him for its Future Scholars Program, which each year identifies 200 low-income eighth graders in New Jersey who achieve academically. If students successfully complete the five-year program, which includes taking college prep classes at Rutgers-Camden, they receive full university scholarships.
Her son, whose favorite subject was math, was doing well with his courses and was set to join the Camden High football team next year, said a tearful Utley, who suffered a stroke in recent years and uses a wheelchair.
Coach Davis said Javonne had natural athletic talent and the perfect muscular build for football. The Staley Panthers team had not seen someone with similar gifts in years.
"He dreamed of playing for the Eagles," Carl Davis said. The Panthers made it to the state championship this season, but lost to Ewing.
Javonne wanted to play football for Rutgers. He believed the university would give him the business degree and knowledge he needed to own his own barbershop, his mother said, and was a well-deserved honor for the kindness and care he showed to others whether at school, church, or home. Javonne collected bicycles that he repaired and gave to kids in the neighborhood.
Over the years, life had not been kind to his family. Javonne was the youngest of six siblings — he had two brothers and three sisters. His father was fatally shot during a Camden robbery about two years ago when he was held up after he left a store. His grandmother died, and his mother is still in a Cherry Hill rehabilitation center, recovering from the stroke. The family's home in Camden was destroyed by a fire last year.
Carl Davis said he and his father would buy Javonne clothing and sneakers.
Although they share the same last name, Davis said, they were not related. Still, Javonne was treated as "one of our own." He was living for a while in an Audubon hotel. Davis picked Javonne up daily to bring him to middle school and football practice, honoring the teen's dad and providing all he thought the father would want for his son.
Utley said Javonne more recently was living in a Cherry Hill hotel near her rehab center.
Her son did not believe in violence, she said. About a week ago, though, he was in a school fight and one of the students threatened that he was going to shoot him. Utley said she spoke to school and law enforcement officials who she thought would protect him.
On Tuesday, the teen was in a fight again at school, but left and was walking away from the school with a 13-year-old friend when they were confronted by the gunman, officials said. Utley said she was told by authorities that her son was a bystander as a fight unfolded. As her son was shot, the 13-year-old was able to run away, dodging bullets, officials said.
At the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City on Wednesday, Camden Mayor Frank Moran spoke at a session about improving urban life, citing Javonne's death as an example of the challenges the city faces, especially for youth. Moran talked about the city's commitment to improve public safety since 2013, noting that the city is at a 50-year low for crime.
Maita Soukup, a spokesperson for the school district, said grief counseling was provided at the high school, the Wiggins Family School where Javonne was a student last year, and other neighborhood schools. The district has started a fund to help the family. Contributions may be made by calling the Camden City School District Family Solutions Center at 856-966-2507.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Camden County Detective Edward Gonzalez at 856-757-7420.