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Two people charged with murder over death of Manor ISD graduate in San Marcos

"He brightened up the room every time you saw him," said Head Football Coach James Keller.

SAN MARCOS, Texas — Two people have been charged with murder in connection with the death of 19-year-old Lavonte Craig Benford that happened in San Marcos on Sunday, Nov. 28.

On Wednesday, Dec. 8, the City of San Marcos said police arrested 17-year-old Lukas Javier Perez of San Antonio and 25-year-old Michael Brandon Torres of Weslaco.

Perez was charged with murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and booked into the Hays County Jail on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Torres was charged with murder and booked into the Hays County Jail on Saturday, Dec. 4. Perez and Torres remain in jail on a $550,000 and $500,000 bond, respectively.

The City said the investigation suggests the homicide was drug-related.

According to an arrest affidavit, Benford's roommate arranged a meeting with Perez and Torres via Snapchat to buy marijuana. The affidavit said Benford and his roommate had four fake $100 bills they planned to use to purchase 42 grams of marijuana.

Documents said that during the transaction, Torres and Perez discovered Benford and his roommate had paid with fake money and retaliated by shooting them, killing Benford.

Manor ISD confirmed Benford was a recent graduate of the district.

The San Marcos Police Department continues to investigate the homicide, which occurred on Sunday, Nov. 28, around 2:20 p.m. at The Cottages apartment complex, located at 1415 Craddock Ave., just a mile from Texas State University.

Benford was pronounced dead at the scene. He was not a student at Texas State, the City said.

The shooting was an isolated incident and there is no ongoing threat to the public.

Benford's former football coach, James Keller, said the teen they affectionately called "Red" because of his hair, was an amazing athlete and even better person.

"He ran track," said Keller. "He did powerlifting. He was an all-district football player, sophomore junior, senior year, just a great kid."

Benford graduated from Manor Senior High in 2021. Head Football Coach Keller said Red played football as a Mustang for four years, with three on varsity.

"He brightened up the room every time you saw him – something about his smile, he always had a big ol' smile on his face," said Keller.

To Keller, Red was more than a student-athlete. They met while Benford played little league. He said they were glued at the hip ever since.

"He is almost like a second, third son to me, man," said Keller. "I need someone to watch my house when we go out of town and Red watched my house for me. Great character, very trustworthy. I loved him to death."

Keller said Benford went on vacations with him and his family and spent a lot of time at their home. Keller said his 9-year-old son looked up to Benford. 

"Red was his favorite," said Keller. "He had this big ol' smile and wore a grill all the time. My son is 9 years old and he said, 'I want a grill like Red, Dad.' My wife got him a fake grill and made a collage of them with their grills and we sent it to Red."

Keller tearfully said Benford wanted to be a welder but worked at Amazon while staying with his brother near Texas State University. 

"We love you, man," said Keller tearfully. "Sorry I wasn't there for you when it happened."

On Monday morning, MISD released the following statement:

"Lavonte Benford, affectionately called 'Red' by family and friends, was a former scholar of Manor ISD. He graduated from Manor Senior High School in spring 2021. Red was a student-athlete and well known for his skill and abilities in football and track. We wish our deepest condolences to his parents, siblings, family and all who loved him. Manor ISD is working closely with Travis County and the City of Manor to provide support to our community during this time of grieving and healing. A crisis team is available this week at Manor High School and Manor Senior High. We will forever cherish Red's memory at Manor ISD and will never forget his picture perfect smile."

This is the fourth homicide this year in San Marcos.

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