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Dispute leads to teen's death

Ronald Durham, 17, had written recently about turning his life around. Friday, he was killed outside a recreation center.

By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- In the Valentine's edition of his high school newspaper, Ronald Durham wrote about smoking pot, selling drugs and carrying a gun.

He also wrote about changing his life.

"In the future, I plan to get married and have a son, so I can show him how to treat women with respect and to be a good man," Durham, 17, wrote in St. Petersburg High School's newspaper, Palmetto & Pine.

On Friday, a week after the article appeared, he walked out of a dance with girlfriend Marielos Brown and into the final chapter of a simmering dispute with a fellow St. Petersburg High student.

"We walked out and Jimmie was right there and Ron turned and faced Jimmie and Jimmie just shot him," Brown said.

She said her boyfriend walked to her car like nothing was wrong and then fell to the ground.

"He looked at me and said, 'Marielos,' and then put his head back down," she said.

Durham died in the parking lot of the Campbell Park Recreation Center.

Jimmie L. Flournoy Jr., 16, was charged with second degree murder and was held in the Juvenile Detention Center in Largo.

Witnesses told police that Flournoy and Durham had taken their disagreement outside, where Flournoy fired several times, hitting Durham in the chest. Though there are conflicting reports, witnesses told police someone also shot at Flournoy and his friends as they sped away in a car.

On Saturday, Durham's mother, Michelle Hines, sat sobbing on her porch, expecting her only son to peddle up on his bicycle and greet her.

"He's going to tell me, 'Momma, that was just a hoax we're playing on you,' " said Hines, 36.

Flournoy's father, Jimmie L. Flournoy, offered his condolences to Durham's family but said there is more to the story. He declined to give more details.

"He reacted in self-defense and that is all I want to say, and God bless both families at this time," he said.

Police and witnesses offered the following account of what happened Friday night:

Durham and Brown, 17, went to the city's recreation center after work Friday night. Flournoy worked at Wendy's in South Pasadena; Brown sold sportswear at the Finish Line at Tyrone Square Mall.

They were inside the chaperoned dance for 15 minutes and left because Brown had to get home in Largo.

Moments later, Durham lay bleeding on the pavement.

Christopher Lampley, the teen supervisor at the recreation center, was working the door Friday night and heard two gunshots.

He rushed over to Durham.

"Stay with me," Lampley told him. "The police are coming."

Lampley said the boys were not part of the center's teen program. He expressed concern Saturday that the center's programs would be tainted by the shooting. For now, he said, the teen dances, known as "jam nights," won't be offered.

"It's disheartening," said Lampley, 29.

Durham had a tough life. His father wasn't around much, and his mother battled a crack cocaine addiction.

Hines, Durham's mother, said her son always stood by her.

"I've got a drug problem, but he never put me down," she said. "He always told me, 'Momma, I love you. No matter what you do.' "

Recently, Durham wrote a personal essay in his English class about turning his life around. He showed it to his teacher, Jill Brady.

"I asked him why he was writing it, and he said he wanted to put it down on paper," Brady said.

Brady, the newspaper adviser, asked him if she could publish it with an anonymous byline in the school paper, and he agreed, saying someone might learn from him. When she showed him an advance copy of the paper, Durham was thrilled.

"When he smiled, you couldn't help but smile," Brady said. "I found him very hard to get mad at. He'd shoot you that grin, and you'd have to laugh."

The article, titled, "I got out of a gang," chronicled his life.

Durham wrote about getting kicked out of his father's house when he was 15 and landing in jail for battery on a school employee.

"I started to sell drugs and make a profit and carry a gun," Durham wrote. "I was the youngest in the hood. I carried a gun because I was down for whatever."

He wrote about meeting the girl of his dreams and getting a job to make her proud.

"I remember when I used to sit around with my friends and say that I would never get a job working for minimum wage when I can make fast money," Durham wrote. "I found out that's not the way to go if you don't want trouble."

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