Monday evening, Mario Mitchell sank into a couch in his Opelika home and looked at a photo of his son. Posed in a crisp shirt and tie with a blazer slung over his shoulder, 18-year-old Jakell Mitchell smiled back at his father.
“He was genuinely a good kid. I use the word good because I can’t say perfect. I mean, he was my model child,” Mario Mitchell said. “He didn’t clean his room up every day, no he didn’t. But where’s that kid that does? That’s what we would call the perfect kid.
“We had to tell him in seventh grade, ‘Man, get up and brush your teeth. Your smile, one day, is going to be the thing that captivates people,’” Mitchell continued. “He hated his teeth when he was 7, 8. Like ‘Dad, my teeth are so big. They pick at me.’ Wait until your body grows into them. Wait until your body catches up with your mouth. That’s what the dentist had to tell him, ‘Boy, you’re going to have one of the most beautiful smiles that you ever want to see.’”
Less than 48 hours earlier, Jakell Mitchell—an Opelika High School graduate and H-back for the Auburn Tigers—was shot multiple times at a party in Tiger Lodge apartments in Auburn. He died from his injuries a short time later.
In that time, Mario Mitchell got the call and flew home from a business trip in Houston. He welcomed family and friends into his home and started making funeral arrangements. He’s also given countless interviews and recounted dozens of stories about his “model child.”
But Mitchell has not had time to process the lost of his son.
“I was just at the funeral home, and I almost went back there and looked at him. But I told myself not to,” he said.” …I hadn’t seen him. My wife got to see him. I didn’t see him. It’s still unbelievable. So I can talk to you because I haven’t seen him. …Right now, this is still disbelief. Total disbelief. I mean, I’m telling myself he’ll be back and it’ll be cool. I’m an adult person thinking like a kid. I know better, but, yeah.”
Jakell made his father proud, on and off the field. A member of Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Clifford Jones said the AU freshman was involved in choir and served as an usher.
“The lives, even at 18 years old, that he was able to touch even with such a short period of time,” Jones said. “…The community itself has to come together and focus on those who are hurting,…encouraging one another.”
That’s exactly how Jakell lived, according to his father. He loved his community and wanted to become a leader. He also acted as a role model for his 13-year-old brother.
“Of my sons, I can say…he was my better child. I was proud of him, extremely proud of him. He set a big stage for my little son,” Mitchell said.
“...I was proud of him. I was proud of him in just about every aspect of life. I don’t know if even that weekend, this weekend, I would’ve done anything different. I don’t know that I would’ve said anything different if I had to say it all over again this (weekend), because I think he was in his environment, college setting, college kids.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know if I would’ve done anything different. The only thing that would’ve been different is if he was still in my house and still had a curfew. All the way up to his senior year he had a 9:30 (p.m.) curfew here. So that’s the only thing that would’ve been different is that he wouldn’t have been there. But, at the same time he’s done the things that I said not to do. I said, ‘Let’s try to move away from Opelika. Let’s try to get Opelika off your plate.’ And my God, it happened in Auburn.”
As Mitchell struggles to cope with the death of a child, he’s asked for prayers. Prayer and community, he added, are keeping him afloat.
Still, he said, the past two days have been tough. The pain of loss is fresh.
He also struggles with thoughts about his boy’s final few moments. Mitchell himself has been shot three times. He knows the pain. He knows the racing thoughts and the rush to make peace with God. He wonders if Jakell knew the same.
“You know what I mean? If he said, ‘Lord have mercy,’ you know?” Mitchell asked. “These are things you have to do to enjoy the resurrection. Did he get any of that out? Did he at least think it? Was it instant? No, it wasn’t because they said he was trying to talk and tried to go run to the car—that stuff right there, he didn’t just die right away. It wasn’t boom, boom—boom, boom, boom, however many and he’s dead. It was pain.
“Boy, I would eat that,” he continued. “I would eat that. I would eat that up; I’d swallow that right now so he wouldn’t have to. That’s the toughest part, when I think about that. That’s the part that makes me mad. … I don’t think I’m saying nothing any daddy wouldn’t say. I told the detective, too. I don’t think I’m saying anything you wouldn’t say if you look away at your two daughters and look back and there wasn’t nothing but one of them. You know he did it. You know he did it. Every time you look back there’s one, and you know he did it. Now he’s walking around here.”