Arkansas State junior defensive lineman Markel Owens and his stepfather were shot to death during a home invasion robbery in Jackson, Tenn., with the athlete apparently trying to protect his parents from their attackers, police said Thursday.
Markel Owens, a 21-year-old junior defensive lineman for the Red Wolves, was fatally shot along with Johnny Shivers, 36, during the robbery at a duplex on Wednesday night. Shivers died at the scene, while Owens was pronounced dead after being taken to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.
A 37-year-old woman, who was Shivers' wife and Owens' mother, was also shot. She was treated and released from the hospital. Her name was not released, but Owens' mother is listed as Chermaine Owens in the Arkansas State media guide.
"I think you can conclude that he was protecting his mother and stepfather," Jackson police spokesman Tyreece Miller said of Owens.
Jerry Scott, the school's sports information director, called it a sad day for the Red Wolves.
"We're deeply saddened and our utmost sympathies go out to his family, teammates and classmates," Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said in a statement. "Please join me in prayer for so many people who are being impacted by the loss of Markel."
Investigators say Shivers was arriving home when he was rushed by two masked men and forced inside the apartment, where Owens and his mother were. The suspects demanded money and a struggle began, with Owens attempting to help Shivers by fighting one of the men, police said.
Shivers and Owens were both shot during the struggle and one of the gunmen then shot the woman. The suspects got away with a large amount of cash, police said.
Investigators say they believe Shivers was specifically targeted and police also discovered a large amount of marijuana inside the apartment. While the motive remains under investigation, police believe the robbers knew that drugs, money or both were in the apartment.
Owens played in 11 games for the Red Wolves last season, helping Arkansas State (8-5) to at least a share of its third straight Sun Belt Conference title and a second straight win in the GoDaddy Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 303-pound native of Jackson, Tenn., would have been a senior next season.
Former North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson was named the new head coach of the Red Wolves last month, replacing Bryan Harsin, who left to become the coach at Boise State. Anderson is the Red Wolves' fifth head coach in as many seasons.
"Markel was a part of our Red Wolves family, and it is obvious he was a well-liked and respected member of our team who will be missed," Anderson said. "We are doing everything possible to comfort his teammates, and we extend our compassion to his family during this difficult time."