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How they’ll honor memory of slain Waffle House waitress

Waffle House employees Kristie Bergeron of Ocean Springs, left, and Ashley Shaul of St. Martin hold candles in memory of their slain co-worker, Waffle House server Julie Brightwell, during a memorial service for her on the beach in Biloxi on Friday Dec. 4, 2015.
Waffle House employees Kristie Bergeron of Ocean Springs, left, and Ashley Shaul of St. Martin hold candles in memory of their slain co-worker, Waffle House server Julie Brightwell, during a memorial service for her on the beach in Biloxi on Friday Dec. 4, 2015. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

If all goes well, the anniversary of the death of Julie Brightwell will pass quietly, peacefully.

Brightwell was gunned down in a Biloxi Waffle House a year ago in the early hours of Black Friday. She was shot by a man after she told him not to smoke in the restaurant in the 2400 block of U.S. 90.

Waffle House said it hasn’t forgotten Brightwell, a Waffle House waitress for eight years. But there will be no public memorial, such as the candlelight service attended by more than 200 people — including several Waffle House executives — on the beach across from the restaurant just days after her slaying.

“While we are planning something small and private, we ask for privacy during this very emotional time,” Waffle House spokeswoman Kelly Thrasher-Bruner said.

The Sun Herald attempted to contact family members and friends through social media, to no avail.

Johnny Max Mount, 46, the man accused of shooting Brightwell in the head with a 9 mm pistol, sits in the Harrison County jail awaiting trial. That trial on a first-degree murder charge is scheduled for Feb. 13 at the Harrison County Courthouse in Biloxi.

If he’s convicted, he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.

Sheriff Troy Peterson said Mount has been undergoing psychiatric evaluations but hasn’t had any problems in jail, where he has been held on a $2 million bond since the shooting.

His attorney Jim Davis told the Sun Herald in June “a very severe head trauma” could figure in Mount’s defense.

Mount was a Biloxi firefighter for 10 years until he was hit by a car as he stood in the middle of U.S. 49 in Gulfport in 2002. He lost a leg and suffered a brain injury as a result, a friend told the Sun Herald.

Brightwell had been a dental hygienist in Nevada and California for years before starting over in South Mississippi, her aunt Diane Hickman said. Like many on the Coast, Brightwell moved here after visiting on vacation.

“She loved it,” Hickman told the Sun Herald last year when she was in Biloxi for the vigil and funeral. “She wanted to live there and that’s what she did.”

Friends at the vigil said Brightwell was a joyful person and like family to her Waffle House colleagues. One co-worker said Brightwell wouldn’t want her friends to be consumed by sadness.

“She would want you to live your life,” Linda Kirkpatrick said, “and live your life to the fullest.”

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton

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