Community mourns teen Dejon Smith’s death
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The search for 14-year-old Dejon Smith ended tragically after he was found dead at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the wooded area behind the 3400 block of Rancho Way.
South Lake Tahoe Police Department (SLTPD) Lt. Brian Williams said Saturday that initial reports suggest Smith appeared to have been killed when a 50-foot pine tree fell during strong wind conditions Thursday.
Williams called the incident tragic and said foul play was not suspected. Smith was reportedly found by family members, but details of how he was found were still unclear Monday.
Smith had last been seen by his family Thursday afternoon when he left home to meet with a friend, his sister Shauntyana Ethridge said Friday.
According to Ethridge, Smith had last been seen by one of his friends in the area of Bijou Community School with an unknown male.
Smith’s family filed a missing person’s report Friday morning with the SLTPD and continued efforts to find him through Friday and into Saturday.
Police officers sought out a witness who last saw Smith in the wooded area behind the 3600 block of Rancho Way on Friday, according to a press release issued Sunday. The witness stated he had last seen Smith in the late evening hours on Thursday.
During that time, the witness and Smith parted ways while in the wooded area. The witness described the location where he had last seen Smith to officers. Several police officers responded to the area described by the witness and conducted a thorough search of the area, but did not find Smith.
Smith was found roughly a half-mile from the area described by the wintess.
Ethridge asked the public for help finding her brother Friday night, which spurred awareness throughout Tahoe in a social media post that reached nearly 20,000 people.
Lt. Williams said Monday that an investigation into the incident was ongoing. He added that investigators were interviewing several witnesses and persons of interest Monday and were still sorting through information. As of Monday afternoon, much of the information gathered was not yet confirmed and not releasable to the public. He further said that releasing the information at that time could be premature and could damage the ongoing investigation.
On Monday, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District issued a press release that read, “our little community has been shaken to its core this weekend with the tragic news of the death of STHS freshman Dejon Smith.”
In the press release, South Tahoe High School Principal Chad Houck expressed the administration’s deepest condolences to Smith’s family.
On Monday, the press release stated, the high school’s counseling team was preparing to help students process the news and provide grief counseling to specific students. The school also contacted other counselors and grief support professionals in the community who were in the school’s Stadium View Building most of the day providing their services to students.
Houck also stressed the importance “to only spread accurate information, especially when information can be shared so quickly and easily through social media,” in reference to the extensive reach the case achieved on social media and many rumors that were beginning to circle within those platforms.
“It is important to understand that the police are still investigating the circumstances, and that it is not helpful to our community and the investigation to propagate any stories other than that which is released by the authorities after their investigation is complete,” Houck stated.
In addition to the sometimes-erroneous information, the response from the community was also largely supportive at first and filled with grief after the news of Smith’s death broke. Most who claimed to have known Smith expressed good memories of him and others sent condolences and prayers to his family.
“This will not be an easy week for our school and community,” Houck stated. “It is a time when we will be challenged emotionally and we will be able to demonstrate our character as a school where everyone wants to be every day.”
A candle light vigil is scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m. at 3443 Rancho Circle.