Before his mysterious death, 17-year-old Lermont Stowers-Jones was a talented musician who was active in his church. A good son and good friend, he was looking forward to starting college.
But in November 2018, the Black teen’s lifeless body was discovered in Denton County’s Hickory Creek.
Authorities quickly ruled his death an accidental drowning. Yet his family believes that something far more sinister could be at work: The teen had received numerous threats in the weeks leading up to his death.
More than two years later, Lermon Jones still doesn't know what happened to his son. Many others suspect foul play, and supporters nationwide have pitched in so the family can fund an independent investigation.
On Sunday, a virtual remembrance and fundraising event, “Below the Surface,” will celebrate Lermont’s life and feature local musicians and an online art auction.
“This has been the hardest thing I have ever went through in my life, and I’m still going through it,” Jones told the Observer. “No parent should ever have to go through this. None.”
Lermont’s death came before last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, which surged nationwide after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. Now, the Denton teen’s family hopes renewed attention will pressure authorities to reopen his case, which Jones believes was riddled with inconsistencies.
When Jones drove up the day his son’s body was found, he said the scene hadn’t been roped off and hikers were allowed to roam free. Officers didn’t seem concerned that several teenagers had fled the scene after Lermont supposedly jumped into the creek from Old Alton Bridge. No one with the sheriff’s department ever tried to interview the family.
The autopsy report also claimed Lermont had been found in white boxer shorts, according to Living Blue in Texas. His mother, though, repeatedly argued he didn’t own any.
The Denton County Sheriff’s Department did not return the Observer’s requests for comment.
Lermont was a light in the world with a bright future ahead, said Angela James, a family advocate and Jones’ cousin. The teen wore his heart on his sleeve; he was trusting and a bit naïve, which James believes may have ultimately led to his death.
“The events leading up to the loss of his life is not a coincidence, and that was threats, that was fights, that was people following him,” she said. “That had something to do with it, definitely.”
More people need to hear his story, James added.
“We know George Floyd is a common name,” James said. “I want the world to know Lermont Stowers-Jones and to understand that, you know, justice and the police, they have to be fair and they have to be accountable.”
Few publications wrote about Lermont’s death, and those that did consistently criminalized him, said local activist and community advocate Jessica Luther Rummel. The Denton Record-Chronicle mentioned that the autopsy reported trace amounts of marijuana in Lermont’s system, which Rummel said wasn't not germane to his case and cast Lermont as a criminal.
The local press failed Lermont when it “regurgitated” press releases from the authorities instead of questioning gross discrepancies, Luther Rummel said.
“Just kind of these typical ways of dismissing the death of a Black body, you know?” she said.
If Lermont had been white, and the teen witnesses had been Black, the entire town would have been "on fire," Luther Rummel said.
Old Alton Bridge, where Lermont’s body was found, carries its own mythos. Nicknamed “Goatman’s Bridge” by Denton natives, legend says the Ku Klux Klan lynched a successful Black goat farmer there in the 1930s. Local high schoolers often trek there at night, the adventurous among them telling ghost stories and attempting to summon Goatman’s spirit.
Lermont’s discovery at that spot makes his death all the more suspect, Luther Rummel said, and authorities never conducted a thorough investigation. But it wasn’t just a failure of the sheriff’s department: In the weeks leading up to Lermont’s death, he’d endured daily racial harassment and death threats, all of which had been reported to Denton police and Denton High School.
One student had even been expelled for threatening to bring a gun to school to shoot Lermont, Luther Rummel added.
“There are so many levels of failure here,” Luther Rummel said. “So when we talk about disappointment, what we’re talking about are these systemic natures of racism: The way that Black lives just aren’t prioritized in our communities. And Mont’s death is a prime example of it.”
Jones said the ordeal has taken a toll on the family; his other children’s grades have dropped dramatically. After Lermont's death, Jones began noticing the sheriff’s department would park their vehicles across the street from his home, which he took as a threat. Since then, the family has had to move and install security systems and cameras because they’re so afraid, he said.
Authorities have fought the family every step of the way, Jones said. After multiple requests and two years passing, they still haven’t returned Lermont’s cell phone and clothing to the family.
Jones said he’s looking forward to Sunday’s event and hopes it will help to revive Lermont’s case and bring the family closure.
“I want answers. I want to know what happened to my son,” Jones said. “I don’t know. I have no clue.”
To learn more about Lermont’s case and to watch the virtual event, visit www.justiceformont.com.
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