There are a lot of things people remember about Felix “Worm” Varnado — his booming tenor voice he tried to lift above others in the church choir, his relentlessness as a defensive back for South Pike’s football team and his kind and gentle nature.
But now his memory comes with a tinge of anxiety and disappointment over the fact that 10 months after he was gunned down at a house party in Kentwood, La., his slaying remains unpunished.
Brandy Williams, Varnado’s mother, held a small gathering at the Progress Volunteer Fire Department’s Station No. 2 on Saturday to keep her son’s legacy alive and beg for justice.
“I pray for justice every ay. I am fighting every day,” she said. “I miss him so much and I know God don’t make no mistakes. It’s hard but I trust him, I trust God.”
Varnado, 17, of Magnolia, was shot Dec. 27, 2019, along with two others who survived, Tyquelle Jackson, 18, who was shot in the chest, and Veiontae Gardner, 18, who was grazed in the back. Varnado died of his injuries at North Oaks Hospital in Hammond, La.
His shooting came weeks after South Pike played a game at Kentwood in which two spectators were wounded in a shooting after the game.
Tangipahoa Parish, La., Assistant District Attorney Leanne Malnar said no one has been arrested in Varnado’s killing, although there are some leads on the case. Malnar said she’s waiting on evidence to be returned from the crime lab and from investigators before she can present anything to a grand jury.
“At this point there’s a lot of holes,” she said.
Varnado was a two-year starter as a defensive back for South Pike. Weeks before the shooting he was named the school’s 2019 homecoming king.
Warren Banks, the transportation director for the South Pike School District and former high school principal, said Varnado’s classmates remember and pay their respects to him.
“Not a day or by that our students don’t bring up his name,” he said. “He is truly missed.”
Banks said students who ride the bus that Varnado took to school remember him every time they pass his house.
“When they get to the driveway that leads to his house, the silence fills that bus,” Banks said. “His generosity, his laughter and his spirit as an athlete are truly missed.”
As South Pike assistant football coach Brinson Johnson stood up to speak, standing in front of a poster of Varnado, he was overcome with emotion.
“ I wasn’t prepared to do this, but Ms. Brandy asked me,” he said, tearing up. “I’m going to have to come back, you guys.”
Johnson gathered his composure and returned to the mic.
“Sorry about that. This really hurts. We’ve got to get justice for Worm,” he said. “His name is brought up every day. He is looking over us every day.”
Johnson said he and Varnado had a “love-hate relationship” as player and coach.
He remembers last year’s game against archrival McComb, when South Pike was trailing and a fan started heckling the team and Johnson.
“Worm was ready to fight because he was talking crazy to me, and earlier in the week me and Worm had gotten into at practice,” Johnson said, adding that teammates often mention Varnado during practice. “It’s a Worm moment every day in practice.
“His name is going to live on forever at South Pike High School, throughout the community,” Johnson said.
Michelle Smith of Shady Grove M.B. Church, where Varnado sang in the choir, said his enthusiasm for worship and praise was inspiring.
“A lot of our children, our youth, they would drag around, they would come in, but Felix, Felix came in the door smiling,” she said, adding that in choir, “he would always try to be louder than the other tenors.”
Smith said the pain that’s left in Varnado’s family should serve as a wake-up call to end violence.
“It doesn’t give no one a right to take anyone’s life. … That’s mother hurting, that’s a father hurting,” she said. “There are people seeking justice for Breonna Taylor and so many, many more, so if they sure seeking justice, we have too seek justice for our youth today, right at our own home.”
Varnado’s grandmother, Debra Daniels, said she knows the agony of losing a child after her son was killed in a hit-and-run wreck, and it tears her up that her daughter now knows that pain as well.
“That’s my baby, and I understand what she’s going through,” she said.
Daniels implored hot-headed youths to put down their guns and put up their dukes to resolve conflicts.
“If y’all can’t fight like we were in school, you’re not a man, you’re not a woman,” she said.
Noting that her grandson lost his life at a party, she encouraged more youths to keep their heads down and focus on their future rather than partying and running the risk of hanging around troublemakers.
“If they don’t mean you no good, stay away from around them. It’s OK to be a loner,” she said.
Debra Evans, who was emcee for the gathering, added, “All that we’re asking you guys to do, keep the right company.”
And then she pledged, “We have to get justice for him. We’re not going to let it go undone.”