‘Wrong place, wrong time’

Published 9:58 pm Monday, January 11, 2010

Officials aren’t certain what happened or why the fight that ended Michael Lee’s life occurred, but those who know him said he must have been a victim of the circumstances.

The 17-year-old Lakeland senior was fatally shot early Saturday morning at a party when a fight reportedly broke out and spilled outside a home in the Park Place community of Norfolk.

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Lakeland High School principal Thomas Whitley. “We don’t know exactly what happened. All we know is that Mike was with us on Friday, and he’s not now. It’s devastating.”

Norfolk police received a call at approximately 12:30 a.m. to report the shooting at the 500 block of W. 34th Street. When they arrived, police found Lee outside with at least one gunshot wound. “A number of other folks,” were gathered around, according to Officer Chris Amos of the Norfolk Police Department.

Lee had been shot at least once with a handgun. Amos could not say how many shots had been fired or how many times Lee had been struck. He said investigators are unsure what led to the fight, but detectives had leads they were pursuing as of Monday afternoon.

“There’s an effort to locate as many of those folks that were there at the party at the time all this unfolded,” Amos said. “They have leads they’re pursuing. There obviously were a number of folks out there. We believe there are folks that saw things that departed before we got there.”

Even though Lee was at the party, “It wasn’t in his character to do anything that would bring that kind of a reaction,” Whitley said. “He wasn’t a young man who looked for trouble. Kids often attend these parties and functions. It could happen to anyone at any time in today’s society. Kids just aren’t equipped to reason when a conflict of that intensity presents itself.”

Lee’s transcripts show he had a 3.2 GPA and strengths in English and math.

“He was an honor student and on his way to graduating with honors,” said Shelia Williams, Lee’s guidance counselor.

Lee also played the cornerback position on Lakeland’s football team.

Williams, whom Lee worked for as a guidance aide, described him as a hard worker, respectful, diligent, bright and willing to help anyone.

Williams said she read his college entrance essay in which he documented his “challenging childhood” and the obstacles he overcame. Lee had applied to Hampton University, Charlotte University and North Carolina Central University.

“I told him so many times how proud I was of him and his accomplishments,” Williams said. “He could have turned the other way and down a different path, but instead he overcame it all. He knew what he wanted, and knew he had to take responsibility for his life.”

Students at Lakeland High School organized a prayer meeting around the school’s flagpole Monday morning to pray for Lee’s family. Approximately 150 students were in attendance.

“We need to not only pray for Mike’s family, but also the family of the person who took his life,” Whitley said. “They’ll also suffer.”

Students also signed a memorial banner for Lee and approached Whitley about planting a tree in Michael’s honor.

The school had crisis counselors available for students on Monday and will have a memorial service in the auditorium for students and the public on Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m.

A memorial fund through the Sun Trust Bank is set up for anyone willing to donate funds to help the family and finance the service.

Res Spears and Tracy Agnew contributed to this story.