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Gone Too Soon: A community mourns three young lives lost to gun violence

Janaria Muhammad, Justin Taylor, and Stanley Freeman Jr. were killed in a recent upsurge in gun violence.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — As officials release plans for fighting an increase in gun violence in Knoxville, families and friends in our community are mourning the loss of three young lives lost forever. 

Janaria Muhammad and Justin Taylor were 15 years old when they died. Stanley Freeman Jr. was 16. 

All three were students at Austin-East High School, which is moving to virtual learning for several days so students have the chance to grieve. 

The stories of Muhammad, Taylor, and Freeman Jr. are more than how they died. They were children in our community who are mourned, missed and will never be forgotten. 

Stanley Freeman Jr.: “He was a big part of so many lives.” 

Stanley Freeman Jr. was a conscientious student who had dreams of playing collegiate sports one day.

His coach of more than seven years recalled the young man's brilliance on and off the field.

“He was a genuine, loving, respectful kid with a big heart that loved everyone, the same if not more than we loved him,” said Nathan Guy.

RELATED: 'We have to do something' | Austin-East principal speaks after second student killed by community gun violence

RELATED: Community remembers Stanley Freeman Jr., teenager who was killed leaving school Friday

Guy said Stanley was not only a player on his team, but he was also a young man he considered one of his own.

“He was a big part of so many lives. He was not only a player of mine but a son to me and my wife," Guy said. "We loved him like he was our son."

The family held a memorial for Stanley on Sunday, February 14. His grandmother said he was a special young man.

Credit: GoFundMe

“My grandson was very special intelligent, well going, respectful to everyone, an outstanding basketball player and also he was a hardworking young man,” said Darlene Ngom.

She said he was only at the beginning of his life, and that he was idolized by his siblings.

“[He] was just starting to begin his life and was an outstanding role model to his other siblings,” said his grandmother.

Ngom said he made good grades in school and served as "an outstanding role model for everyone.”

A GoFundMe has been set up in Stanley's name after he was killed on Friday after leaving school.

Justin Taylor: “He was so full of life”

Stefanie Taylor and Juanqus Sims remember their 15-year-old son, Justin Taylor, fondly.  He was shot and killed in January. 

"He was just so full of life, he loved everybody. It's like he didn't care about himself, he put everybody else first," said Stefanie Taylor, his mother.

She said her son was a football star who was nicknamed after one of the greats.

"He was a very good football player and a lot of coaches around here always wanted him to be on their team, and they referred to him as Bo-Bo Jackson," said Taylor.

RELATED: "He was so full of life" | Parents remember 15-year-old Justin Taylor, who police say was fatally shot by friend

He was a star on and off the field. His family said that he had an entrepreneurial spirit and his dad, Juanqus Sims, said was ready to work anytime.

"He might leave the house at 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning saying, 'I love you guys I'm about to go to work.' That young — 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning," said Justin’s dad.

He did his best to stay out of trouble and instead focused on doing positive things for the people around him.

But on Jan. 27, investigators say Justin Taylor was shot and killed.

"He (Justin’s Bother) came down and told me that Justin had been shot. He said, 'I'm serious mom he's been shot,'" said Stefanie.

10News asked his parents what they would say if they could talk to the shooter.

 "Shame on you, you took my son, Shame on you," Stefanie said.

His father has the same questions. 

"Why didn't you guys take him to the hospital? Why leave one side of town and go to the other side of town?" his dad said.

Now, Taylor has a message to try to prevent this from happening to another family.

"We should get together and love on our kids and teach them about gun violence. We need a program or a place for them to go. We need more things for them to do besides riding around and getting into trouble," said Taylor.

Janaria Muhammad: "She was always smiling"

When Janaria Muhammad's sister, Cairra Woodruff remembers her, it is with a smile on her face. 

"She was always smiling, even when she was a pain. even when it wasn't a smiling situation," Ciarra told 10News. "You could just say, 'Hey Nana,' and she would just start smiling." 

RELATED: 'She didn't deserve to be dead' | Family, friends remember 15-year-old shooting victim Janaria Muhammad

Muhammad had many passions in life, which included volleyball and dance. 

One of her main passions, though, was family. 

"She loved her family. She was very family-oriented. Any family members she had seen, she told them she loved them before she left," Woodruff said.  

Her life was cut short on Tuesday, after a shooting near Cherry Street.

The incident was reported around 7:40 p.m on Selma Avenue and Cherry Street.

She was shot at least once, according to the Knoxville Police Department.

Credit: WBIR Staff

Officers attempted to give aid until EMS personnel arrived and transported her to an area hospital. 

Now, Woodruff is imploring the community to step up and do their part to help bring justice for Janaria.  

"Nowadays forget a street code. We all look out for each other, we're all one. So when you sit here not saying anything ... it could just have been your friend, your sister, your brother,"  Woodruff said. "And you will want justice. Just like I want justice." 

The investigation is still ongoing.

Credit: WBIR Staff
Janaria Muhammad, 15, was a freshman at Austin-East High School in Knoxville.

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