Community shocked by incident

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

MEADVILLE &045; Residents of this small Franklin County town struggled to understand Monday what one woman called &uot;our tragedy.&uot;

Family and friends stood beneath the pines outside a Kirben Lane mobile home, where on Sunday night a family of four had been found shot.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the incident, but authorities said it appears Ronnie Brown of Meadville had argued with his older stepdaughter, Shenill West, before the shooting occurred.

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In the end, Ronnie Brown; his wife, Gloria Brown; and her two daughters, Albreel &uot;Abby&uot; West, 15, and Shenill West, 12, had been shot with a handgun.

All but Abby West &045; who died Monday afternoon at the University of Mississippi Medical Center &045; died at the scene.

&uot;I heard two gunshots and I came running,&uot; said Kayla Brown, a relative and neighbor of Ronnie Brown, looking at yearbook photos of the two girls.

&uot;My mind went blank for a second. I guess it still is,&uot; she said, shaking her head. &uot;But I just can’t believe it.&uot;

Neither, it seems, can anyone else &045; including officials at Franklin High and Franklin Junior High, where Abby West and Shenill West went to school, respectively.

&uot;When I heard about it this morning, my reaction was total shock,&uot; Franklin High School Assistant Principal Grady Fleming Jr. said Monday. &uot;It shouldn’t happen anywhere, but it’s such a small community, you don’t think it can happen here.&uot;

Indeed, those who knew the family said that as far as they knew, there were no domestic problems among the Brown family, and they don’t know what could have sparked the incident.

&uot;They were just good people, and they didn’t have any problems that I knew of,&uot; said Katie Brown, a second cousin of Ronnie Brown. &uot;I’m just heartbroken is all I can say.&uot;

&uot;I had known him a long time, and he was just a good guy,&uot; said Lee Bethley, another neighbor who, like Ronnie Brown, drove a dump truck for the Franklin County Road Department.

Bethley said he used to spend plenty of time with Ronnie Brown even after work hours, &uot;all the time. I just never thought something like this could happen.&uot;

Marshall Bankston, principal of Franklin Junior High, called Sunday’s shooting &uot;our tragedy.&uot;

There, sixth-grader Shenill West was known as a student who had no major discipline problems and was usually very respectful, Bankston said. When she didn’t show up Monday for summer school, he wondered where she was.

Bankston knew older sister Abby West, a petite, quiet girl who just finished 10th grade, as &uot;someone with a likeable personality Š and a good student.&uot;

Although neither girl was involved to a large extent in extracurricular activities, Abby West did try out for the cheerleading squad this year, school officials noted.

With such small schools &045; 500 students at Franklin High, 394 at the junior high &045; &uot;everyone gets to know each other well,&uot; Fleming said. &uot;It’s just unbelievable.&uot;

Gloria Brown did not work, and in fact was quite ill, having been in and out of hospitals for cancer treatments for quite some time, Katie Brown said.

But no one, neighbors said, expected her life, or those of her family, to end like this.

&uot;I just wish it wouldn’t have happened,&uot; Abby West’s grandfather, Leonard Jones Sr., turning away from the Browns’ home and back to his own. &uot;I just wish I could take it all in my hands.&uot;