STARKVILLE – While Sunday’s memorial service for Starkville High student Devin Mitchell could have taken on a somber note, participants decided to make it a celebration of the young man’s life instead.
The 16-year-old Mitchell, a junior at Starkville High, was shot to death in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day. Sunday, a crowd of more than 1,000 people poured in to Calvary Baptist Church to pay tribute to the Yellow Jackets’ three-sport star. The crowd easily packed the church with family and friends, filling the church parking lot and a neighboring street as well.
“Such a wonderful young man,” Starkville High football coach Jamie Mitchell said. “I will always remember his smile, his silliness. He had the ability to make anybody’s day that much better. He knew how to make a situation better. In the classroom, on the football field, he was the kind of person who was so special, so caring, he just made everything better.”
Jamie Mitchell is not related to Devin Mitchell.
At the request of the family, the Starkville High football team wore black jerseys to the funeral service, with several of Devin Mitchell’s teammates serving as pallbearers. Devin Mitchell also played baseball and ran track while maintaining honor roll status at the school.
“We will never forget you, Devin,” said Starkville High senior linebacker David Fair, when speaking to the crowd. “There is not a day that goes by we don’t think about you. It broke our hearts to lose you. But you didn’t go alone; part of us went with you.”
Hundreds of Starkville High students attended the services. Many were moved to tears, as one classmate after another shared a Devin Mitchell story from a classroom, study hall, field trip or athletic trip. Many students wore lapel pins, which simply read “No. 32, forever.” Others wore buttons with an action photo of Devin Mitchell from his standout junior season just completed.
“We will always remember Devin,” Starkville High student Hailey Tomlinson said. “He always had a bright smile. He always had something funny to say. Every day, he felt was a blessing from God, and it was our job to make the most of it.”
Jamie Mitchell spoke of Devin Mitchell’s speed and quickness. He also talked about the young man’s work ethic and his ability to work each day to be better than the day before.
“When he came in as a 10th-grader, he was determined to be one of the best football players we ever had,” Jamie Mitchell said. “He attached himself to two of our seniors, who were bigger and stronger. He looked up to our leaders and tried to learn everything he could from them.”
Jamie Mitchell, who is dealing with his first fallen player in a two-decade coaching career, was moved to tears on more than one occasion while speaking to the crowd. The veteran coach also led his team in the Lord’s Prayer in honor of Devin Mitchell. The team concluded the prayer with a chant of “We are Starkville!”
Pastor Maggie Little gave the eulogy. In her remarks, she pointed out how she had never seen Devin Mitchell with a bad attitude and how nothing depressed the spirited youngster.
“He always came to Bible Study with a positive attitude,” Little said. “He would always say ‘Every day is a good day.’ His other phrase was, ‘Trust in the Lord and He will work it out’.”
The funeral service began with a slide show featuring several photos of Devin Mitchell in the classroom, in social settings and on the athletic fields. The somber mood was broken early as several photos brought a smile and lots of chuckles from the audience.
“Devin is looking down and smiling upon us,” Starkville resident Bryan Anderson said. “He can know that he was deeply loved and will be forever missed. To see this many students show up and pay respect for this young man just goes to show you how deeply loved he was and how much he will be missed.
“Hopefully, this celebration of Devin’s life can be a comfort to the family in their time of need.”
Several cars in a lengthy procession were adorned with black and gold ribbons. A couple of cars had Devin Mitchell posters on the side of one door. Similar posters were carried by football team members as they escorted the body out of the church hall.
Devin Mitchell was buried at New Bethel Cemetery in Maben.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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