St. Joseph police are investigating the homicide of 18-year-old Skylar Powell, who was found dead early Wednesday of an apparent gunshot wound.
Powell graduated from Benton High School on Sunday, which his mother, Summer Phinney, said was one of the happiest days of her life. Friends and family have been supportive and positive, Phinney said — adding that she wants answers.
“I want to know who took my baby away from me,” Phinney said. “And I want whoever did it to be caught and justice to be served. He just graduated high school. He had the rest of his life. It’s not OK. I don’t understand why. ... I don’t want to bury my baby.”
Police continue to investigate and said they have identified a person of interest in the incident.
Officers responded at 12:05 a.m. Wednesday and found a body in the street near 22nd and Calhoun streets. There was a heavy law enforcement presence throughout the day, with large parts of the street blocked off with police tape.
Police confirmed Wednesday evening the body belonged to Powell.
Phinney said authorities knocked on her door around 6 a.m. Wednesday and asked her to describe Skylar’s tattoos.
“They said ‘We hate to tell you this, but your son has been shot and killed.’ And I just dropped to the ground,” Phinney said, crying.
Tom Powell, Skylar’s grandfather, said he talked to his grandson around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Skylar texted his grandfather, saying he was waiting on a ride from a friend who was going to bring him to his house. Powell said he felt as though whomever shot his grandson robbed him.
He said he and his grandson were close. They used to go fishing and swimming and rode all-terrain vehicles.
“He had a beautiful spirit about him. I don’t know how someone could take that away,” Tom Powell said, adding that he loved his grandson and will miss him.
Powell said Wednesday he was trying to stay positive and keep in mind that his grandson is in heaven.
“It’s not goodbye. I’ll see him later,” he said.
Phinney has three other children: Noah Cunningham, 16, Jaden Cunningham, 13, and Krimsyn Phinney, 3. Phinney said Skylar was getting ready to move to California to be with his dad and work on underwater welding on the shore.
The 18-year-old had to work hard to graduate and keep his grades up, Phinney said, adding that she was proud of him.
“The teachers were really great and helped him a lot,” Phinney said.
Brenna Clarey, a student at Central High School who was close with Powell, said he was overjoyed to be graduating. She echoed his mother’s sentiment, saying he worked hard and often stayed after school to work with teachers.
“He was determined to graduate,” Clarey said.
Clarey said Wednesday night she was still in shock. She described Powell as someone who was happy all the time.
“He had a contagious smile,” she said.
Some Benton students stopped by the crime scene and the school’s counseling department announced that it was open to meeting Wednesday and today with those who are grieving.
Multiple streets remained closed Wednesday afternoon in the area south of Frederick Avenue, as detectives worked a large crime scene behind the Cash Saver grocery store extending to an apartment unit on Calhoun Street.
Phinney encouraged parents to talk to their kids about how to resolve conflict and how serious guns are.
“Guns are no joke,” Phinney said. “It’s a permanent thing. ... You can never go back and change it.”
Phinney described her son as a likable kid with a good personality. Everyone she knew liked him, she said. She didn’t know anyone who had an issue with her son.
“He had a good personality and he had cute little dimples and he always made everybody smile,” Phinney said.
The St. Joseph Police Department asks that anyone with information contact them at the tips hotline 816-238-TIPS.