The last words from Fedonta "JB" White's mouth as paramedics loaded him into an ambulance were "I love you" to his girlfriend, cousin and a few friends, according to an eyewitness.
The 6-foot-8 basketball player who earned hometown hero status in Santa Fe by visiting elementary schools to dunk basketballs and sign autographs died early Saturday morning of a gunshot wound.
Chris McKnight, a 20-year-old who first met White in middle school, said around 70 high school and college students were at a party at a house under construction in the Tesuque/Chupadero area when a fight broke out.
As he was leaving, White exchanged shoves with another student, who then pulled out a handgun and fired one shot that hit White below his right shoulder and did not exit his back, McKnight said.
"I asked him where he was hit, and he pointed to his shoulder. I felt it with my hand and started screaming for a clean towel to put over the bullet hole," said McKnight, who will start classes later this month to become an emergency medical technician at Santa Fe Community College. "I put the towel on the bullet hole and pressed. He didn't lose no blood."
After the shooting, four friends loaded White into a car and drove him to a highway exit in Tesuque, where they met paramedics around 4 a.m., McKnight said.
White was still alive and talking.
"He said, 'Put me in the car. Put me in the car and take me to the hospital or else I'm going to die, bro,' " McKnight said. "When I last saw him, he told me he loved me. He said, 'I love you,' as he went into the ambulance."
McKnight said he and four or five others followed White to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, but he did not find out White had died until he was being interviewed by investigators later that morning.
Authorities arrested 16-year-old Estevan Montoya, who students say attended Capital High School, and charged him with first-degree murder in connection with White's death. A spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office said a criminal complaint with more details about the shooting and arrest will be available Monday.
McKnight and others who were at the party said they weren't sure if White and Montoya had a prior relationship.
"I know Estevan. I didn't know he would shoot someone," said Seth Arroyos, a recent Capital High graduate who said he was at the party but left before the shooting. "I saw them say 'what's up' to each other at the party, but I'm not sure if [White and Montoya] had a relationship."
A few hundred people took part in a vigil for White on Sunday night on the Plaza.
White graduated early from Santa Fe High over the summer with plans to play basketball at the University of New Mexico this fall. A top 100 recruit nationally, White spurned more successful programs to become a Lobo.
Now the most-prized basketball recruit to come out of the City Different in recent memory is the third teenager in Santa Fe to be killed this summer.
On July 15, 17-year-old Ivan Armando Perez Chumacero, a rising senior at Capital High School, was shot and killed during a fight outside a south-side apartment complex. On June 5, Aiko Perez, a recent graduate of the Academy at Larragoite in Santa Fe, was fatally stabbed by a friend who told police he was under the influence of LSD.
"In the span of a few months, three of my friends have gotten murdered. This is too much," said T.J. Sanchez, a recent Capital High graduate who joined White on the Class 5A All-State team following this past season. "What set JB apart was his competitiveness. We met in second grade, and it felt like we were in the gym playing everyday."
Dax Roybal, who directs youth basketball programs at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, said he is worried there is a connection between the increase in violence and loss of extracurricular opportunities during the pandemic.
"I've never heard of this happening to three kids so quickly like this," said Roybal, whose father Lenny Roybal used to coach basketball at Santa Fe High. "I'm not going to blame it on COVID, but we usually have 500 kids in our summer basketball league. Maybe if we had some of these kids in the gym every day like we always did, we could have saved at least one of them."
On Sunday night, teenagers shocked by violence lit candles for a makeshift memorial. One mourner added a basketball to the tribute. Others asked for a stop to it all.
"I would spend every day with JB at the Chavez Center practicing our game. I know Ivan, too. I knew Aiko. They're all gone now," said Arroyos. "It's time to put the guns down. No way a 16-year-old should ever have a gun."