Early morning shooting claims one; second body found near scene later

Published 8:16 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Gun violence on rise with temps

Early morning shooting claims one; second body found near scene later

Panola County Sheriff’s investigators began their week with a homicide case from a weekend shooting near Sardis –  a case that possibly expanded Sunday afternoon when a second body was found in the area.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Rumors of a third body found Monday evening were quashed by Sheriff Shane Phelps, who asked the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office to bring a helicopter to the Highway 315W area just outside the town limits of Sardis.

It was there that Danell Williams, age unavailable, was killed shortly after midnight in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 24. Deputies arrived to find the victim already deceased from what appeared to be gunshot wounds.

Phelps confirmed reports that hundreds of people were on the scene when deputies arrived, many of them family or acquaintances of the victim. “There was a lot of emotion,” he said. “Everybody was just really upset about what had happened.”

Officers from Sardis Police Department, Como Police Department and the Mississippi Highway Patrol helped with crowd disbursement and traffic control as deputies attempted to secure the crime scene and gather evidence.

“A big thank you to those departments for their assistance,” Phelps said. “We had a lot of people around and Highway 315 had to be blocked off while we recovered the second body.” 

The sheriff said other reports of gunfire between disputing parties, even as deputies were securing the crime scene, were untrue, and that early investigation led officers to believe this shooting was not random, or a drive-by situation.

“Right now we believe that this was a targeted incident, but let me stress that every part of this investigation is still early and we are learning more information and doing more interviews,” Phelps said. 

One person was taken into custody Sunday, a juvenile from Sardis, and questioned at the Sheriff’s Office. Phelps said that person was not charged, and after conferring with the District Attorney’s Office he was released.

Later Sunday, dispatchers took another call from the area, this from people reporting that a family member was missing. Although Phelps would not comment on a possible relationship between Williams and the person reported missing, residents said the men did know each other.

On Sunday, deputies were called to the area again, this time for reports of a dead body found about 100 yards from the first victim. That body, obscured by tall grass and brush in the area, was tentatively identified by local authorities Tuesday afternoon. 

The identity of that person will not be released until the official autopsy results have been returned by the State Medical Examiner’s Office,

Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said both bodies have been sent to the Mississippi State Crime Lab.

Phelps would release few details, saying the investigation was far-reaching. “I know the public hears rumors and wants to know what’s going on, but it’s a process that law enforcement has to follow in cases like these,” he said. “As time goes on these questions will be answered and the public will know more about what happened that night.”

In response to the weekend violence, Phelps on Monday initiated a special detail that will patrol the area around the clock for the foreseeable future. “They are up there right now and are going to stay there for an undetermined amount of time right now,” he said. “We are going to try to get ahead of this violence in the Green Hill area this summer.”

The Green Hill area comprises, statistically, the most dangerous area for gun violence in Panola County. Located just a few hundred yards from the Sardis town limits on the west side of Highway 51, the subdivision includes Green Hill Elementary School and several streets of housing.

Green Hill is outside the jurisdiction of the Sardis Police Department, who can patrol no further than Pearl Street to the west. The area has one entrance (Pearl Street) and one exit (John Lamar Road) to Highway 315.

Between the two passages is Willow Street, about 100 yards long, with houses closely adjacent on both sides. It is Willow Street that has been the most dangerous in the county, if not the country per capita, in recent years.

In the summer of 2021, multiple people were shot, and several killed, over the course of the hottest months of the year. Two especially deadly weekends saw purported gang members exchanging gunfire at all hours of the day and night, compelling many in the neighborhood to sleep on the floors of their homes.

Phelps and his force responded with a show of force that kept deputies on those troublesome streets for weeks until the violence subsided. The sheriff, county Board of Supervisors also, that summer, took the unusual step of having County Attorney Gaines Baker petition a Chancery Court judge to have one residential structure on Willow Street declared a public nuisance because of reported gang activity and shootings.

The county was successful in the effort, forcing the residents to move from the mobile home and making any gatherings on the property illegal.

This week Phelps, reflecting on the summer of gun violence that plagued Panola County in 2021, said the public should be aware that deputies are prepared to maintain a presence sufficient to keep citizens safe in their homes.

“Last year was fairly quiet, but we don’t want a repeat of two years ago,” Phelps said. “The public needs to know we are going to be on those roads every day and people need to know they can help keep everybody safe when they let officers know what is going on. We will be out there interviewing people about this weekend, or people can contact the Sheriff’s Office or Crimestoppers of Panola County at 662-209-2011 with information.”