Sept. 24--EAST ST. LOUIS -- Alonzo Phifer's basketball coach at East St. Louis Senior High School said the teen was "great kid" with straight As.
Early Sunday, Phifer, 19, of East St. Louis and two others were fatally shot outside the Club VIP juice bar during a "teen night" that ended with two groups of young men arguing before shots were fired in the parking lot.
Phifer, a junior at the high school, died at St. Louis University Hospital Sunday afternoon.
Henry Byrd III, 21, of 1132 E. Seventh St., Alton., was pronounced dead outside the club at 6830 State St., according to Rick Stone, the St. Clair County coroner.
The name of the third man who died has not yet been released. He was described as a 20-year-old from St. Louis. Two other gunshot victims, both 18, were treated at St. Louis hospitals and released.
Three people were detained in St. Louis in connection with the shootings, according to Michael Floore, the East St. Louis police chief. No charges had been filed as of Sunday night.
The three shooting deaths Sunday linked to the building at 6830 State St. brings to eight the number of homicides that have taken place at either Club VIP or its previous incarnation, Club Casino, since 1998.
The details that led to the 2:15 a.m. shooting were still being investigated Sunday.
"It was a teen night," Floore said. "I was told that some young boys from St. Louis came over here and were throwing gang signs up and a fight started between them and some East St. Louis boys. They took the fight outside."
Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr. said he was told that the young people got into an argument inside the club about dance partners.
Illinois State Police Lt. Jim Morrisey said the two groups of men had been thrown out of the club, which does not serve alcohol.
They then went to their vehicles on the parking lot and retrieved weapons and began shooting, Morrisey said. All of the patrons had been searched prior to being allowed inside the club, he said.
After the shooting, several cars raced away from the parking lot. One of them was stopped a short time later in East St. Louis. The occupant of the car was taken into police custody for questioning.
The East St. Louis Police Department is investigating with the assistance of the FBI and Illinois State Police.
Tony Young, head basketball coach and athletic director for East St. Louis School District 189, said the mood at school Monday will be a somber one as students and teachers contemplate Phifer's death.
"This is the thing that hurts the most -- when you do everything right like he did. He always laughed, smiled. He welcomed me when I took this job in June. He was the first kid I met," Young said.
Young said Phifer was not only a great athlete but he was a straight A student.
"He got his progress report a week ago," Young said. "He showed it to me. He had straight As. Every single teacher wrote on his progress report that he was a great student and a pleasure to have in class."
On the basketball team, Phifer was a guard. "One of the things we will do is remember his spirit. He kept it light hearted. He always had a positive attitude. The kids loved him as much as I came to love him," Young said.
"We will never forget him," Young said. "He was huge at school and in the community. Everybody knows him. Whatever he chose to do with his life, I know he would be great at it."
Beth Shepperd, the District 189 assistant superintendent, said counseling will be made available at school on Monday.
Parks called the shooting "just a horrific, horrific circumstance ... It's so frustrating when you see a situation that was intended for good turned into something so unfortunate."
Club VIP's business license is in Cedric Taylor Jr.'s name. Club Casino was owned by his father, Cedric Taylor Sr. Neither man could be reached for comment Sunday.
"No alcohol is served on the premise. They sell juice, water, energy drinks and soda," Parks said. "It goes back to what I have always said: the wrong people having guns in their hands at the wrong time.
"There are people out there who feel it is necessary to settle their beefs and vendettas with each other with weapons," Parks said.
Parks did not know if the club has surveillance cameras. He was told there was a lot of security at the club but he did not know the exact number of security guards on duty at the time of the shooting.
Police Capt. Vince Anderson and Sgt. Jay Cobb were on patrol at the time of shooting and were pulling up to the club just as the shots were ringing out, Floore said. Multiple shell casings were found on the ground.
When Parks was asked whether there would be any disciplinary action taken against the business, he said, "I don't believe that's going to matter going forward based on the frustration I heard coming from the owner last night."
He continued, "Our prayers go out to all of the families who are involved."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, repeatedly has asked Parks to require nightclubs to close at 1 a.m.
Last week, St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said that since prosecutors began focusing June 1 on East St. Louis locations linked to violent crime, the murder rate plunged 85 percent during the same period two years ago. The crackdown has centered on nightclubs, liquor stores, housing projects and abandoned buildings.
Kelly, commenting on the tragedy at Club VIP, said, "After a hopeful summer, this is a punch to the gut for the whole community. This proves how fragile things remain. But giving up is not an option. The murdered victims and the hundreds before them demand we keep fighting for justice".
Parks said a great concern is how these guns are getting into local communities.
Police said it appears that the young men involved in Sunday's shooting retrieved weapons from their cars that were parked on the parking lot of Club VIP.
"We have no carry and conceal laws in the state of Illinois. And, those who had the guns weren't supposed to have them. They might not have been old enough to even own a gun," Parks said.
Asked about the recent stats that showed crime in East St. louis is down, Parks said crime is down because of the cooperation between local, state and federal police officers.
"That's one of the reasons we are taking part of our TIF dollars to hire five more police officers," Parks said. "We are also writing grants to get more officers. We plan to hire between seven to 10 more police officers in the next few months."
Between 1998 and 2010, at least five people were killed at Club Casino: two men shot dead in 2010, another killed in 2008, and another in 2000. A fifth patron died from suffocation in late December 1998 after a 350-pound security guard sat on the man while another guard handcuffed him, according to a News-Democrat archives search.
Anyone with information about Sunday's triple-homicide is asked to call the Illinois State Police at 346-3776, the East St. Louis Police at 482-6700, or contact CrimeStoppers at 866-371-TIPS or [email protected].
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 239-2503.
Copyright 2012 - Belleville News-Democrat