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'I love you. Be safe' was signature farewell of 12-year-old fatally shot in Mississippi

His family moved out of Jackson a few weeks ago over fears of gun violence. They returned that day so he could attend his sixth-grade graduation.
Adrian Hawkins-McDougles, pictured in December 2020, was killed May 26 in a drive-by shooting in Jackson, Miss.
Adrian Hawkins-McDougles, pictured in December 2020, was killed May 26 in a drive-by shooting in Jackson, Miss.Family photo

A 12-year-old honor roll student who was fatally shot in Jackson, Mississippi, was remembered by loved ones Wednesday as an empathetic and protective “old soul” who was always concerned about the safety of others.

Adrian Hawkins-McDougles and his 16-year-old brother, Onterrio, were walking to their grandmother’s house last Thursday to get batteries for a video game controller when they were struck by bullets from a drive-by shooting, according to police and the boys’ mother, Kyneshia McDougles.

Adrian Hawkins-McDougles at a school football game in 2021.
Adrian Hawkins-McDougles at a school football game in 2021.Family photo

Adrian, who had attended his sixth-grade graduation hours earlier, died on the sidewalk, and his brother was wounded, authorities said. 

They were shot three weeks after McDougles, 33, had moved her family about 90 miles away from Jackson, fearing for their safety amid gun violence and a rise in violent crime. They returned last week so Adrian could go to his graduation ceremony. 

“The guns, they have to stop,” McDougles said. “We’re losing babies. We’re losing loved ones. We’re losing everything for nonsense.”

Midtown Public Charter School, which Adrian attended, said in a statement that he was an “incredibly bright star.”

“Every single student and staff member on campus has at least one positive memory or funny story about Adrian,” the school said.

Adrian and Onterrio were two of four children shot last Thursday in Jackson, police said. Last year, there were 155 homicides in the city, the highest per capita murder rate in the country and the most homicides in Jackson since 1995, according to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization.

City officials are weighing gun reform measures, including a proposal that would exempt Jackson from the state’s open-carry gun law.

“We can’t keep running from it,” said McDougles, who grew up in Jackson but decided to move her family to Hattiesburg after she grew weary of hearing gunshots daily and seeing young people wield firearms.

"You can’t even go to a store without someone standing out there with a gun. I’d get back in my car and go to another store,” McDougles added. “They’re just shooting for no reason, and no one understands why. Then you turn on the news and someone’s dead.”

Last Thursday, the latest victim was Adrian, her youngest son, an athlete and a video gamer, who was protective of his mother when strangers catcalled her on the street and who always checked on her when he felt she might be hurting. Even when she lied and told him nothing was wrong, Adrian would insist on sitting with her. 

"Adrian was so strong for me,” she said. “I pray every day, every night. Now I do it more than ever. I ask for strength.”

Adrian McDougles, center, with his mother, Kyneshia, and older brother, Onterrio, in December 2020.
Adrian McDougles, center, with his mother, Kyneshia, and older brother, Onterrio, in December 2020.Family photo

Lisa Torrey, the boys’ grandmother, said it was Adrian’s nature to worry about people. He would end every conversation with: “I love you. Be safe.”

Torrey and McDougles said Adrian would say it to everyone, including people he had met for the first time, on the phone and in person. They said they have no idea where the signature saying came from, other than that it showed how much “he really cared about people,” Torrey said.

He also cared for animals. Torrey and McDougles both chuckled when they separately recalled how Adrian came to have his beloved dog, Bruno. 

Adrian first brought home a stray dog he had found cowering under a house. He bathed it and asked his mother to buy dog food. Adrian was heartbroken when his mother’s partner sent the dog away. But within the next couple of days, Adrian had come home with another dog, identical to the first. 

“He said, ‘Mom, he doesn’t have a home,’” McDougles said. “‘This time we can’t take him away.’”

Torrey said one of the last things Adrian did before he was killed was to give Bruno a bath.

Adrian McDougles, left, with his older brother, Onterrio, in 2011.
Adrian McDougles, left, with his older brother, Onterrio, in 2011.Family photo

At a weekend news conference, Deputy Police Chief Deric Hearn said two 18-year-olds were arrested on suspicion of murder, aggravated assault and drive-by shooting. Police had not yet determined a motive.

McDougles said she went to court Tuesday to see the faces of her son’s accused killers. When one of them was told of the charges, she said, he smiled and laughed.

“It really hurt my heart,” McDougles said. “What type of person has no remorse?”

The Jackson Police Department and the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Meanwhile, McDougles awaits answers.

“Everybody is so worried about me, as they should be, because I lost my baby,” McDougles said. “Hug your babies. Hold them tight. Tell them, ‘I love you, be safe.’ That’s all you can do for me.”