Brenden Wilson liked to skateboard, played football and baseball when he was younger and had been a member of the junior ROTC at Woodbridge Senior High School.
The 16-year-old junior was also outgoing and had lots of friends, according to a man who identified himself as Wilson’s cousin, but declined to give his name.
“He was always laughing about something,” the man said. “He was quite the jokester.”
The relative was among a steady trickle of neighbors and teens who spent part of the Veterans Day holiday visiting the wooded area beside the high school, where Wilson was fatally shot late Monday afternoon.
By Wednesday morning, police had charged three suspects in connection with the killing, which happened about 4:30 p.m. on a busy pathway between the school and Oakwood Drive in Lake Ridge.
Kawain Tyrell Smalls, 20, of the 12700 block of Dulcinea Place in Lake Ridge, is charged with murder, use of a firearm in a felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Kymothy-Tyriq Desean Wilson, 18, of the 13800 block Breezy Ridge Way in Woodbridge and a 17-year-old Woodbridge teen are both charged with conspiracy to robbery in connection to the crime.
Another suspect, a juvenile, is still being sought, said Prince William police spokesman Jonathan Perok.
The crime is believed to be drug related, and the victim knew the suspects, he said.
People in the neighborhood heard the gunshots Monday afternoon. Some thought they were hearing fireworks or an explosion.
One neighbor said seven successive shots rang out, followed by a pause, then an eighth.
The path where Wilson was killed is called “the cut,” and runs between Oakwood Drive and the Woodbridge Senior High School parking lot.
One neighbor, who asked that his name not be published, lives beside the walkway and said the shots sounded like they came from a large-caliber handgun.
He said he rushed to his back door just in time to see a man he believes was the gunman rush by his house and out toward Oakwood Drive.
Other witnesses told police the man jumped into a waiting pickup truck that sped away. Shortly afterward, the neighborhood was filled with patrol cars as police investigated the shooting late into Monday evening.
Police said they have been unable to verify that the truck was involved in the case.
Students returned to school Wednesday, where counselors were on hand, and most signs of the shooting were cleared away. But along the path, a small memorial to Wilson that included a teddy bear with a red bow-tie, a pink and green flower balloon and four bunches of roses, two of which were stapled with messages hand-written on small white cards.
“Rest in paradise, Brenden. You’re gone but never forgotten.”
“We will always remember you, Brenden. Rest easy and fly with the angels.”
Wilson’s cousin stared at the bouquets as he talked about how Brenden was tall for his age, sporting a “pretty impressive” full beard, and how his family – his mom, stepdad, a sister, three stepbrothers as well as his dad, stepmom and sister – were struggling with the news.
“His mom is taking it pretty harshly,” he said.
Brenden was not a partier, his cousin said. His family had no reason to suspect the shooting had anything to do with drugs, and continued to deny drug involvement after arrests were made. Instead, family members believe Wilson was set up and then ambushed.
Wilson’s family said he had been having problems with a few neighborhood teens leading up to Monday’s shooting. Family members suspected the shooting might be connected to those troubles and had shared all the information they had with police.
“We had heard about it,” his cousin said. “But I don’t think anybody thought it was this serious, that’s for sure.”
The suspected shooter, Kawain Smalls, has a long criminal history in Prince William County. He was named "fugitive of the week" last year after a robbery in Woodbridge. His latest arrest was on Sept. 29 of this year after allegedly robbing a 17-year-old boy of his cell phone on Hedges Run Drive in Lake Ridge.
A fund has been established at www.gofundme.com/brendenwilson to help Wilson’s family with funeral costs.