Michigan State University freshman Lyniah Bell was shot in the face and killed by her boyfriend as he played with what he thought was an unloaded revolver, Cook County prosecutors said Monday.
Lafayette Hodges, 18, softly sobbed as he stood before Judge Arthur Wesley Willis, listening as Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy described the final moments of Bell’s life.
The couple, who had been dating for nine months, were in a bedroom of the Chatham apartment Hodges shared with his mother and siblings, when a friend came over with the handgun Friday, Murphy said, reading from a statement Hodges allegedly gave to police.
The friend dumped the bullets out of the revolver onto the bed, and Hodges picked up what he thought was an empty gun and pointed it at the friend, allegedly pulling the trigger. Hodges then pressed the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger again. But when Hodges pointed the gun at Bell, he fired a shot that hit her under the nose, Murphy said.
“[Hodges] told detectives that he then pointed the gun at [Bell], and she said that he loved her too much to hurt her,” Murphy said. “[Hodges] said that he pulled the trigger and the gun went off, hitting [Bell].”
Hodges ran from the house, leaving Bell’s body behind on the bed, partially covered with a blanket, Murphy said. After calling a friend and his mother, Hodges turned himself in to police a six hours later.
According to a police report, Hodges told the desk sergeant at the police station, “I shot my girl.”
“Where is she now?” the sergeant asked.
“The morgue,” Hodges replied.
Murphy said that the friend who reportedly witnessed the shooting denied giving Hodges the gun, and that Hodges initially told detectives he had been “play-fighting” with 19-year-old Bell when the gun went off.
Bell had been upset over Hodges’ ex-girlfriend earlier in the day, but when the two were in the bedroom together, no one heard any arguing, Murphy added.
Willis ordered Hodges held in lieu of $50,000 bail for involuntary manslaughter. But Hodges will be held without bond since his arrest for shooting Bell violated conditions of his bond for allegedly assaulting a police officer in 2018.
“What we have here is a complete tragedy,” Willis said. “The defendant stands in front of me in tears, and rightly so. It is a tragedy that could have been prevented by not playing with a gun.”
Assistant Public Defender Valerie Panozzo said Hodges had dropped out of school to provide financial help for his family, noting that Hodges’ mother was the sole provider for him and his eight siblings.
Hodges also voluntarily turned himself in, Panozzo pointed out.
“He walked by himself into a police station without a lawyer,” she said. “He wanted them to know what really happened.”
After the bond hearing Monday, Bell’s family members told reporters they never approved of Bell’s relationship with Hodges, whose Facebook page has pictures of him handling guns.
Bell had been an honors student at North Lawndale College Prep, and had won a Phoenix Pact scholarship from the charter school.
Hodges attended several high schools before dropping out of an alternative school, and had racked up multiple juvenile arrests, as well as a 2018 felony case in which he allegedly punched and attempted to bite police officers who approached him over a parking complaint. In juvenile court, he also had faced charges for attempted armed robbery and unlawful use of a weapon, Murphy said.
Bell’s cousin Joseph Wright complained that the potential sentence for an involuntary manslaughter conviction did not match the loss the family had suffered.
“For her to come home on Christmas break, and for a knucklehead to take her life, that is sickening for me,” Wright said. “What about all the unanswered questions? This guy had time to go and make up all these things.”