The death of 19-year-old Blinn College student Lacie LaRose at a graduation party last month was the result of an argument that began over a game of beer pong, a witness told The Eagle.
The two-bedroom home in the 900 block of San Benito Drive now sits unoccupied. The backyard where LaRose was shot, along with two others who received minor injuries, shows no signs of a party, let alone that a young woman was gunned down there. The residential neighborhood less than a mile from A&M Consolidated High School was quiet Tuesday afternoon, the one-month anniversary of the shooting that police said remains under investigation.
On the night of the shooting, there were between 100 and 120 people at the graduation party where a pay-per-view boxing match drew a crowd that included neighbor Ronald Wayne McNeil, 39.
Landon Duke, the 23-year-old guest of honor at the May 2 party, said McNeil lived across the street and came to the party with two friends. Duke, who was celebrating his pending graduation from Texas A&M on May 17, had never met or interacted with McNeil, a convicted felon.
Earlier that day, Duke and the party's host had gone door-to-door telling neighbors about the party and asking them to contact either of them before calling police to file a noise complaint. Duke said he and his friend never invited anyone to the party, which is why he thought it was odd to see McNeil and his friends at the party.
"It was a little strange that they were at the party but they were really nice, at first, congratulating me on graduating," Duke said.
During the televised boxing match, Duke said McNeil started to get verbally upset about the partygoers not cheering for Floyd Mayweather. Duke described it as a small disturbance that wasn't a big deal.
Police were called to the house for a noise complaint at some point after midnight, according to a police report.
By 1 a.m. Sunday, the party died down to about 20 or 30 people, witnesses said. McNeil and his friends were hanging around, playing beer pong in the garage with some of the college-aged guests.
One of McNeil's friends got into an argument with one of Duke's friends over the rules for beer pong, Duke said. The verbal exchange became more heated and McNeil and his friends were asked to leave, according to Duke, who said he had stood up to join his friends in escorting the men out.
Duke said he threw a punch that knocked one of McNeil's friends on the ground; the man got up and left with his friends. Duke said some other people threw punches in the altercation, but that the fight was over pretty quickly. Duke did not name who the other people in the argument were.
Accounts from the police report and Duke vary as to what was said as McNeil and his friends backed down the driveway.
Investigators wrote in court documents that McNeil told authorities some of the other people at the party were yelling racial slurs and beating up his friend. Duke said he heard McNell yell that he was going to get his gun, but didn't recall anyone yelling racial slurs. McNeil and his friends are black; Duke and most of his friends at the party are white.
"We're a bunch of college kids. We didn't think anything was really going to happen. Just to be safe, we closed the garage door anyway," Duke said in a recent phone interview.
The guests kept the party going and Duke said he and LaRose were getting ready to play a game of beer pong together. LaRose went into the backyard to get a few beers for the game -- that's when Duke said he heard the first shot. Fourteen shots rapidly followed, according to witness statements and the police report.
Duke said he did not see McNeil fire the shots.
Police records state McNeil told officers during an interview that he accidentally fired the gun while running up to the house. McNeil reportedly told investigators after his arrest that it was his goal to scare the kids at the party with his Glock .40 caliber handgun.
LaRose was hit by the gunfire and someone dragged her partially into the garage, which is where Duke said he saw her after taking cover under a couch. Witnesses reportedly heard LaRose say "Call 911; I can't breathe."
Court records state that McNeil and a friend were seen fleeing the scene by an officer who was in a patrol car down the street when the shooting began. The officer responded to the scene, stopping McNeil's friend and giving dispatchers a description of McNeil's white Ford F-250 pickup. McNeil was apprehended a short time later.
He remained late Tuesday in the Brazos County Jail on $500,000 bail. In addition to murder charges, McNeil is facing two first-degree felony charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and a third-degree felony deadly conduct charge.
A spokesperson for the College Station Police Department said the case is still under investigation.
McNeil was previously convicted in February 2000 for felony manufacture of a controlled substance in Bastrop County. He later servied a three-year sentence after being convicted for possession of a firearm by a felon in Williamson County.
Love 'Em Like Lacie
LaRose's mother, April LaRose, said on Tuesday she'll never get over the loss of her only child.
"Every morning I wake up thinking this is a nightmare," the Irving resident said.
Lacie Christabelle LaRose was born Feb. 2, 1996, in Irving to April and Robert LaRose.
LaRose's love of animals started at an early age and never waned. Her mother said she constantly brought home strays for which they'd have to find homes. As Larose grew older, she found a job at an animal clinic in Grand Prairie.
Her senior year of high school, LaRose applied and was accepted to the University of Arkansas. April said she and her husband convinced their daughter to change directions and select College Station and, ultimately, Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The couple said they felt College Station offered a safer environment as a little country town that wasn't too far from home.
"She didn't fight us. She just always agreed and went with whatever we came up with," said April.
Jacee Wren was preparing for her sophomore year at Texas A&M when she met Lacie LaRose last August.
"She was really down-to-earth. She never made me feel like the odd person out," Wren recalled.
Wren said she would hang out with LaRose close to five days out of the week since that first meeting. Wren described their kinship as "two country girls who loved to drive the back roads in their trucks," swap weekends at each other's parents houses and made friends everywhere they went.
"Lacie felt like she was making some lifelong friends," Wren said.
Among those friends was Landon Duke, who said he met LaRose three months ago through a mutual friend.
"One of the things that attracted me to her is she was always happy. She would always have a smile," said Duke, adding "She was definitely the life of the party."
LaRose's exuberant spirit was exhibited a week after her death as friends traveled to Irving for LaRose's funeral. A long line of trucks in the processional had American, Texas and Confederate flags flying.
Several fundraisers have been set up in honor of the 19-year-old Blinn College student whom everyone described as friendly, outgoing and a die-hard animal lover. Two separate gofundme.com efforts have raised a combined $4,290 to help start nonprofit foundations in LaRose's name and help pay for funeral costs.
Wren and her friends made bracelets with the phrase "Love Em Like Lacie" on it. Wren said on Tuesday that she sold 700 bracelets and more orders are on the way.
"Mrs. April and Mr. Robert are still having a hard time but having so many of Lacie's friends still visiting them everyday makes it a little easier," she said.
Duke said he's stayed in contact with LaRose's parents. He also said he's grateful for the few days he got to spend with Lacie before her death.
"I just want to let everyone know how much of a positive vibe she provided me in the last days of her life."
Lacie's mom said she's doing the best she can to fill her daughter's shoes by being a friend to anyone who knew her daughter.
"They'll tell me stories about things they did with Lacie that keep me laughing," April LaRose said.
The mother's next move, she said, is to continue the #justiceforlacie movement through social media. She said she also wants to speak to officials in college towns about finding ways to keep criminals from living in neighborhoods with college kids.
"These kids are trying to go to school and do something with their lives. They don't need to be worried about having these criminals living around them."