Teens: Mother of 2 boys drowned needs of the grace, not the burden

In this March 21, 2019, picture lawmakers of the state to honor four teenagers who helped save a 2-year-old girl from her mother in the car as it was sinking in a creek on 9 March 2019, in Leland, Miss., after an appearance before both chambers of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson. On the front row Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, left, Austin McNemar, 15, and Seth Humphrey, 17. On the middle row are Jacob Humphrey, 17, and C. J. Holland, 18, and Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville. On the back row are Rep. Otis Anthony, D-Indianola, and Riverside High School principal Donald Coleman. All four teens attend Riverside High School. (AP Photo / Emily Wagster Pettus)

JACKSON, Miss. – Two Mississippi teenagers who helped save a toddler when her mother’s sport utility vehicle was sinking in a creek, say they are pleased that a judge has dropped against the woman, whose other two children drowned when the unattended vehicle slipped into the water.

Bobby Johnson, who was fire chief in the small town of Leland, where the children died on 9 March, also says he agrees with Washington County Justice court Judge Laverne Simpson, the decision to drop against Jenea Monique Payne, 25. She was initially charged with negligent homicide and child neglect after investigators said she left her three children in her sport utility vehicle while she went into a supermarket.

A candlelight memorial service is set for Friday night in Leland, and funerals are Saturday for Payne’s sons, 1-year-old Rasheed Johnson and 4-year-old Steve Smith.

“I think they should have showed some grace from the start, because that woman lost two of her children. She has to live for the rest of her life, so she needs some mercy,” 17-year-old Jacob Humphrey, who worked with three other young people, to rescue a 2-year-old Raelynn Johnson.

The four young men — 18-year-old C. J. Holland, Jacob Humphrey and his twin brother Seth Humphrey, and the 15-year-old Austin McNemar — spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday at the Mississippi Capitol.

The four students at River high School in the small community of Avon. On the 9th of march was the last Saturday of spring break, in the rural Mississippi Delta, and the heavy rain was pounding on the plains. The four were hanging out in Leland, where the fire chief is the twins’ stepfather.

McNemar said that he and his friends had just finished eating when they saw the vehicle rolling in swollen Deer Creek. Seth Humphrey ran for help, and Holland jumped from a small bridge to the SUV and started kicking the windows trying to break them. A law enforcement officer and threw a glass breaking tool in the direction of the Netherlands, but the tool fell short, and McNemar said he and Jacob Humphrey jump into the cold to fetch water.

McNemar said Jacob Humphrey use of the tool to break a window, and Holland, and drew the little girl. Holland said that he was not a strong swimmer, and was tired.

“He had to hold me,” Holland said, pointing in the direction of Jacob Humphrey.

The teens got Raelynn safely out of the creek.

“When we found out that there is more in the car, but we couldn’t see them,” McNemar said.

Mississippi legislators honored the teens Thursday, giving them standing ovations in the House and the Senate. Republican Lt Gov. Tate Reeves called it “the true Mississippi heroes.” Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville presented them with certificates of appreciation, and several lawmakers posed for pictures with them.

“Gentlemen, if there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to call me,” Hines told the teens.

Simpson dismissed the charge against Payne after a hearing Tuesday. Holland, Jacob Humphrey, and Johnson said that they agree with Simpson’s decision. Prosecutors can still attempt to indict Payne. Washington County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said earlier that he was waiting on a report from the Leland police before deciding what to do.

Donald Coleman, the principal of Riverside High School, accompanied by the four teenagers and other students to the Capital. Coleman said he looked at the four young men, in case they need guidance.

“I think it’s a great, humanitarian, heroic in what they did that day to save the life of someone else — someone they don’t know,” Coleman said. “We always talk about the fact that fat for the things that are in our community and environment. … And that day, they don’t think. They just jumped in that Deer Creek.”


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