Crime

Saunders wanted what most men do, but a bullet ended his dreams

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALDStanton Saunders' mother, Vanessa Smith, cries while attending a vigil for her son on Sunday, June 12, 2016. Saunders was shot and killed earlier this week in Gulfport.
AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALDStanton Saunders' mother, Vanessa Smith, cries while attending a vigil for her son on Sunday, June 12, 2016. Saunders was shot and killed earlier this week in Gulfport. SUN HERALD

GULFPORT -- Raveen Bender fears for her twin sons who, just shy of their third birthday, attended a candlelight vigil with her Sunday evening for a friend shot dead in Gulfport.

She said she tells them, even at this young age, that people don't fight with words anymore. They fight with guns.

She hopes she can protect them from the violence that ended the life of Stanton "Trap" Saunders, a rapper, a dad, a son and a 21-year-old who had many friends. Saunders was shot in the chest Wednesday, only 13 hours after another fatal shooting in the city.

The Bender boys, Jayden and Jorden, did not understand what had happened. When the crowd lit candles on a walkway by the beach, the boys thought it was a birthday party for them, their mom said, because their birthday is coming up.

Saunders' two-year-old son, King, released three balloons at the vigil and watched them drift into the sky. He was with Saunders' mother, Vanessa Smith, who raised her son in the Gaston Point community.

She took him to church. She taught him the importance of family. She saw him Tuesday night when she got home from work as a cook at one of the casinos.

"He was up, happy, jolly and everything," Smith said. "He loved people and he loved his friends. He loved everyone."

His friends at the vigil are used to the shootings. They just never expected Trap Saunders would be among the dead. He got his nickname, they said, when he became trapped in what looked like a dog house while playing in the woods as a child.

He wanted to be a rapper one day. He had recorded some of his music just recently.

"He was trying to get out of here," said friend Mario Clark, 18. "It's just a struggle, the hard things you see."

Smith said her son hoped to move to Atlanta, where his cousin is in the music business. Saunders was waiting on the birth of his second child, a daughter due in October.

Childhood friend Travon Travis said, "He wanted to go to school, get an education and better himself for his family -- what every man wants to do."

Saunders' death is under investigation, but his mother said she has heard no official word about why he might have been killed. He will be buried Saturday.

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