2 university students dead in Louisiana shooting

The Southern University marching band performs before the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two 19-year-old women who were Southern University students and members of the school’s athletic program were shot and killed during an exchange of gunfire early Sunday outside a Baton Rouge apartment complex, police and university officials said.

Related: Suspect in University of Texas homicide arrested

Police arrested one of two men suspected of exchanging shots. Ernest Bernard Felton, 22, of Miami, is facing charges of attempted second-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon in the shooting of a 24-year-old man who was at a hospital with wounds that aren’t considered life-threatening.

Investigators were awaiting results of ballistic analysis to determine who is responsible for fatally shooting Lashuntae Benton, of Lake Charles, and Annette January, of Gary, Indiana, police said.

Benton and January were shot around 2 a.m. during an exchange of gunfire between Felton and the man who was shot, Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. said in a statement.

People were gathered at a “social function” at the apartment complex near LSU’s campus when the 24-year-old man pulled up to the complex in a Chevrolet Cobalt. Investigators believe the shooting stemmed from a previous altercation.

A witness told police Felton “initiated” the shooting by brandishing and firing a handgun at the sedan as it approached him and others at the party, according to a police report. Nobody else at the party had a gun, the witness told police.

January, a freshman, was a member of Southern’s track and field team; Benton, a sophomore, was a student athletic trainer.

Benton’s mother, Theresa Tillman, said police told her that her daughter wasn’t an intended target of the shooting near LSU’s campus. January’s mother said one of her daughter’s teammates said members of the track team were having a party at the apartment complex when the shooting occurred.

“She was just caught in the middle,” Dawn January said of her daughter.

January said police informed her of the suspect’s arrest.

“It doesn’t change what happened. She’s still not here,” she said.

Benton and January both lived on Southern’s campus in a different part of Baton Rouge, their mothers said.

“My baby was a very vibrant child, a beautiful child with a beautiful heart,” Tillman said during a telephone interview. “Everybody loved her.”

January was the captain of the track team and member of the student council at her high school, Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, said her former track coach, Jerae Protho-Guider.

“Annette wanted to be the best at whatever she did,” Protho-Guider said.

Benton was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting; January died at a hospital shortly after the shooting, Coppola said.

Flags on Southern’s campus flew at half-mast Sunday in their memory.

“The University asks for prayers and support for the families at this difficult time,” Southern University System President Ray Belton said in a statement Sunday.

Tillman said her daughter played softball, track and volleyball at her high school in Lake Charles and was studying sports medicine at Southern.

“She was very ambitious,” she added.

Protho-Guider said she recruited January to join the track team after seeing her running down a school hallway during her freshman year. January became a sectional champ in hurdles during her junior and senior years and parlayed her athletic and academic success into a scholarship at Southern, her former coach said.

“It feels like a nightmare, like I’m just waiting to wake up,” she added.

Dawn January said her daughter was outgoing and aspired to be an entrepreneur.

“She didn’t meet any strangers,” she said.

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