Charles Edward Jones III, a ninth-grader at Watson Chapel Junior High School, was remembered Tuesday by the school’s student body, faculty, friends and family members as they gathered on the school’s campus for a memorial balloon release.
Jones was among a group of teens on their way home from a basketball game Friday night, when he was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing U.S. Highway 79. According to police and witnesses, the vehicle fled the scene. A 21-year-old Pine Bluff man was arrested in connection with the hit-and-run and is being held in the county jail.
Tuesday’s emotional dedication, which included handmade banners designed by classmates as well as speeches and original poems by classmates and faculty was introduced by Principal Henry Webb. Several songs were played including the familiar, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.” Students quietly sobbed as classmate Michiko Smith sang “I’ll Always Love You.”
Friday nights had always been good times for Jones, hanging out with friends and bonding with his family, especially his stepfather, Raymond Jackson.
“We always went to McDonald’s every Friday night,” Jackson said. “That was our time together.”
Jackson said he had just been on the phone, joking with Jones before the accident.”I told him, ‘tonight we are gonna eat ham and cheese.”’
After joking around, Jackson said, he waited for his stepson to get home for their Friday night ritual — but he never arrived.
“He was a proper child,” Jackson said. “He was real unique, always concerned about other people’s feelings … and he loved God.”
Jones was a member at Canaan Christian Center where his mother, Kendra Jackson, said he was looking forward to becoming an usher.
“CJ was very involved in ministry and helped at church wherever he could,” Kendra Jackson said, calling Jones by the nickname she always used for him. “And he was always happy. And when I say always, I mean always.
“He was my most unique child,” Kendra Jackson said. “He was the kind of child who asked hard questions and did the right thing without being asked. I never had to ask him to do his homework. When I came home from work, it would be on my pillow.”
Jackson said her son was a logical thinker, great at mathematics, liked jets and planes and was considering a career in the military. She tenderly spoke of his “soft, quiet” voice, his intelligence and how he often tutored others.
“All his teachers have told me he was an excellent student,” she said.
“He is the kind of student that you wish you had a million of,” Webb said. “He was an awesome student who governed himself, took care of business and did what was expected. He was mindful and cared about others.”
Best friends Mikhail Cayton, Latrell Cayton, Curtis Morgan and Alex Herrien were with Jones when he was hit. The five boys grew up together, went to school together, and played sports and video games together almost daily. Each of them said they are dealing with their loss in their own way.
“He would want us to be strong and happy…,” said 16-year-old Herrien, who said he barely escaped injury himself. “The wind from the car was so strong it knocked me into the ditch.”
Herrien described Jones as “a friend I could talk to about anything. He was always a bright kid, not mean, and loved basketball.”
Asked what he will miss the most about Jones, Herrien replied: “We made each other smile.”
“It’s not a good feeling,” said Mikhail Cayton, 14, who had known Charles since the fourth grade. “I never known him to do anything bad.”
Cayton said he was a few steps behind the others who had already stepped into the street.
“I saw a car with no lights on speeding toward them,” he said. “I hollered real loud and told them to hurry up and cross. They took off running … but Charles got hit. I was in shock.”
Cayton said the driver of the vehicle never stopped. “He just sped up,” he said.
Morgan, 15, said he is thankful to have had such a good friend.
“He had this vibe that everyone wanted to get to know,” he said as he shared his favorite memory. “I remember the time we went to a game at UAPB … we had VIP seats. We laughed when we almost got hit by a ball.”
Morgan summed up his perspective: “I saw his body die on impact. It was sad, but if you know what Heaven is … he’s in a better place.”
Latrell Cayton, 13, and the only eighth-grader in the group, reportedly ran to Jones’ home to inform his parents of the accident. Latrell Cayton said he will miss the laughter Jones brought to his life.
“He was an amazing person,” he said. “If we keep him in our hearts, he will never die.”
The ceremony concluded with the release of individual red balloons. Red was chosen because Jones regularly wore the color.
“When we see a red shirt, we will remember Charles,” Webb said.
After the release, the students formed a circle and said a prayer. Webb then asked the students to turn to someone and say something positive in Charles’ honor.
“He inspired me to go on,” said one of the ninth-graders in the circle.
Funeral services for Jones will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Watson Chapel Baptist Church.