ANDERSON – When Deb Dietrich came home about 7 p.m. from her celebratory dinner and checked her texts on Dec. 30, she was greeted by a message that will forever change how she feels about her birthday.

That’s when the Anderson Preparatory Academy health and physical education teacher learned her students, brothers Javon and Jayzon Blackwell, had been found dead of gunshot wounds that same day with their father, Javon Blackwell Sr., in a home in the 2300 block of South Gallatin Street in Marion.

“It never will be the same,” Dietrich said of her birthday.

APA pre-academy teachers Brian Long, Zach Morrison and Courtney Adkins along with Dietrich said adjusting to the loss appears to be more difficult for them than for most of the students, who returned to class without their schoolmates Monday after winter break.

The students collected $1,300 to pay toward the boys’ funeral costs, in part by paying $1 to wear jeans for a Spirit Day on Wednesday. Students at APA’s elementary school plan to raise more funds next week.

The fundraisers are among several conducted by a variety of individuals and organizations, such as the Second Amendment Riders Motorcycle Club.

The teachers described Jayzon, 11, as a mischievous competitive jokester who was full of energy, often skipping through the hallways. He loved to draw, especially figures and scenes from the video game Fortnite.

The “ultimate big brother,” Javon, 12, was described as more quiet and sincere.

A ‘BALL OF ENERGY’

A memorial desk littered with construction paper cards made by his classmates sits in the corner of the fifth-grade classroom where Jayzon would have held court.

“They said if he comes back as a ghost, his desk is still there,” Adkins said.

Jayzon’s primary teacher last semester, Adkins said he also organized a weekly lunchtime drawing contest.

“Jayzon is always a ball of energy. He was always wanting to get up and be social with his classmates,” the first-year teacher said. “I could always count on him to be the one to make everyone else laugh.”

Choir teacher Long said though they’d never done so in the past, his choir now often has interpretive movements with their music.

“That’s because Jayzon created them. If he felt actions went with the music, he made them,” the 20-year teaching veteran said. “He was a squirrel. The boy would never stop moving. He danced all class long. He always smiled at you, even when you got mad at him.”

Art teacher Morrison said Jayzon had a habit of coming to his classroom rather than going to homeroom.

“He would stop by my room two or three times a day, just to talk or drop off a picture,” he said.

Dietrich, who usually has about 50 students in a class, said Jayzon was the first student whose name stuck with her.

“He also was quite an accomplished athlete,” the 30-year teaching veteran said.

SINCERE AND HELPFUL

A sixth-grader, Javon was a class leader his last six weeks in school, Morrison said.

“His name was still on the list when we returned on Monday, which made it extra hard for me,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because I felt he had a lot more to give.”

Long described Javon as always wanting to be helpful.

“At breakfast time, he would help clean up,” he said.

Dietrich said Javon often would ask whether it was OK to do his homework on the other side of her desk while she was working.

“He was very concerned about doing the right thing and about his grades,” she said.

The teachers said they had no indication of trouble at home that would have led to such a tragic outcome. Both boys would say they missed their father and go into detail about how they spent their time with him.

Though Adkins said she couldn’t get out of bed the day after hearing the bad news, APA’s students have been more resilient.

“I think it’s hard for them to grasp, really,” she said.

Still, the teachers each said imagining the terror of the boys’ last moments is keeping them up at night.

“I definitely believe it changed us. Everything like that does,” Dietrich said.

Funeral arrangements

Visitation for Javon Blackwell Jr. and Jayzon Blackwell will be from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, 1204 W. 14th St., Marion.

Services will begin at noon at the church.

Gholar & Gholar Funeral Service is handling arrangements.

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