LAURINBURG — In one corner of Dragon Park on Saturday, a crowd clad in camouflage and hoodies cheered as aging men in spandex and young men in bright colors and boots threw down in a wrestling ring.
Across the grass, young kids got a spritz of colored hairspray on their flowing or close-cropped hair or the likeness of a cat painted on their face, while those a bit older had their nails painted by a fellow teenager. Christian rap and gospel music played and groups raised money for those suffering with an illness, all as a city fireman and Scotland County’s sheriff’s deputies looked on.
It was a community day.
“This is an effort to bring the community together for the youth,” said Anbeca DeShield, a dentist at FirstHealth. “To show that there is more to be involved in than gangs and violence, especially with all that’s been going on in the county,” she added, speaking of the recent shootings that have taken lives and endangered others.
DeShield and her co-worker, dental assistant Sutina Monte, started planning the event this summer following the drowning of 19-year-old Devonte Montgomery, whom Monte took under her wing when he started hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Monte and her husband took Montgomery, or “Taee” to their country home, where he learned to ride four-wheelers, to delight in the outdoors and to swim in a nearby pond. He was planning to get his GED and go to college.
“It just tugged at my heart, that he may have gotten into some things before, but that he was starting to turn his life around and then it was cut short,” DeShield said.
The event was held in his honor, the first of what DeShield and Monte hope will be many. It’s important to the two that city kids receive positive influences in their lives.
“My understanding is that kids as young as third grade are in gangs,” Monte said. “It starts as something small, like bullying or having access to drugs, and then they wind up in prison.”
Sheriff’s deputies Brandon Cribb and Jonathan Dunn agreed that anything to bring the community together in a positive way was a good thing. Dunn added that law enforcement has earned a bad reputation among many of Scotland County’s youth because parents threaten their children with a call to the police as a discipline tool.
“They grow up fearing us, and then they don’t call us when they need us,” Dunn said. “They have a hatred of us and think we’re the bad guys. But we’re not, we’re the good guys.”
According to Montgomery’s great-grandmother and adopted mother Annie Pearl Montgomery, the teenager never “caused her a bit of trouble,” and his mother Demetris Malloy said he was always the one to break up arguments with a comment that would make everyone laugh.
“He was the kind of man that wanted to do things for you,” his grandmother Ann McCall said. “He had a sweet and child-like spirit. When he died, I prayed to God not to take him, because I thought he would be the one to make it out of Laurinburg and make something of himself.”
McCall carries her grandson’s weathered obituary in her purse, and shows anyone who will stand still long enough the collection of photos she has of him on her cell phone.
“It feels good, real good, that everybody cared about him enough to throw this together,” Annie Pearl said.