Randall Wanzo recalled the grim conversation he had with his son Austin the day before the 20-year-old former North Pike football player was shot and killed.
“ ‘What’s going on in McComb?’ I said. ‘Have they killed anybody yet today?’ You know what my son told me? ... He said, ‘Daddy, the weekend ain’t over yet.’ Little did he know that he was going to be the next man murdered in Pike County.”
Austin Derrick Wanzo died just after midnight Sunday after suffering a fatal gunshot wound near the intersection of Summit Street and Higgins Drive.
Lacurtis Hackett, 20, was charged one count of manslaughter in the shooting, which Hackett claimed was accidental. He’s been freed from the Pike County jail after posting $25,000 bond.
Those who knew Wanzo gathered Tuesday afternoon at the spot where he died to remember his life and to demand change in a city plagued by a recent and severe wave of gun violence.
At the vigil for Wanzo, mourners remembered him as a kind, funny, thoughtful and driven young man who aspired to work in finance, trading stocks and bonds. They said he was, by all accounts, a wonderful person.
“He couldn’t make it to Sunday — they had something else planned for him, so he didn’t make it to Sunday,” Randall Wanzo said.
Randall Wanzo described the thoughts racing through his head when he learned his son had been shot.
“Happy Father’s Day. In other words, they gave me a Father’s Day gift that I won’t ever forget,” he said. “I don’t care if Father’s Day comes back, I want to take Father’s Day and get rid of it forever so it’ll never show up again. This is the worst Father’s Day I’ve ever had in my life.”
About 50 people attended the vigil in Burglund, including many of Wanzo’s family members and friends, some who came from out of state to attend. The Down South Burners Motorcycle Club rode in a procession in Wanzo’s honor.
Wanzo worked nights at Sanderson Farms and took junior college courses online in the mornings.
Wanzo attended Walker’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church on Wall Street, not far from where he died. Pastor Josea Oatis said the young man was highly respected throughout his community.
“Austin was a loving young man,” he said. “And we show our support for him to show that we’re tired of the violence, we’re tired of the murdering and it’s time for us to reclaim our neighborhood and reclaim our rightful spot.”
Local minister Kelvin Williams said it’s important to stop the violence.
“When you look at the young man, he’s a soul, too. We’ve got to pray for his family, and you’ve got to understand what they’re going through,” Williams said. “I know sometimes we want to bring violence, but sometimes we’ve got to use what we’ve got — that’s the power of love.”
Austin’s mother, Karen Wanzo, recalled their last conversation on the evening Austin was killed.
“He didn’t let everybody know what he was doing. He was just real low-key. He left Saturday at about 8,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m gone, Ma,’ and he went out the garage door. He forgot his keys so he came back in the front door, and the last thing I told him, he said, ‘Bye, Ma,’ and I said, ‘Bye, baby,’ and that was it.”
Austin always lent neighbors a helping hand.
“This whole week he was just so happy. He mowed the yard Saturday and I kept telling him, ‘It’s so hot that you need to wait until the sun goes down.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t feel like it. I have something else to do later on,’ and he mowed the yard,” Karen Wanzo said. “He said, ‘Ma, I see you looking at it. I’m going to weed-eat it tomorrow.’ He was just so funny.”
“He mowed three yards over there. All the neighbors knew him,” his grandmother Joyce McGhee said. “They are distraught.”
He wants people to remember Austin for his ambition.
“Austin is a young man that had plans in life. He didn’t talk much, he was kind of a quiet guy. But he had a good heart. He enjoyed his living,” he said. “He was a very kind, young Black man.”
Wanzo attended school in McComb until the eighth grade, when his parents moved to the North Pike School District.
“He left McComb, where everybody loved him, and he turned around and came to North Pike, where everybody loved him,” Randall Wanzo said. “He was going to school and he worked. And he mowed yards, he mowed yards in our neighborhood for everybody — and they just loved him to death. He mowed their yard, made sure everything was taken care of for them and he did a fine job doing it.”
“He wanted to be an investor, he wanted his money to make the money and he wanted to be able to go off and do his thing,” Randall Wanzo said. “We say Black lives matter — it can’t matter if you’re killing your own. Lives can’t matter if you’re killing your own. If you’re killing your own, how does life matter?”