CARBONDALE — When Jay’Quan Campbell saw the gun, his first thoughts were for his brother, Xe’Quan.
“I thought about everyone else on the bus, but my main focus was him,” said Jay’Quan, 16. “That’s my little brother. That’s the person I’ve been protecting since we were young, since elementary school when it was 10 people trying to jump on him, and it was just me and him.”
On the morning of April 12, Jay’Quan rushed Jekiary Anderson and pulled him into a headlock, after he allegedly pointed a pistol at the brothers, as he boarded Carbondale Community High School Bus 21.
Xe’Quan, 15, followed his brother to the front of the bus and grabbed away the gun, he said, just before Jay’Quan threw Anderson off the bus, in the 600 block of East College Street.
Police have since arrested Anderson, 19, on one count of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.
Meanwhile, a video of the incident shared on social media has led to praise for the brothers’ actions, and questions about what led to the altercation.
According to Xe’Quan, the dispute started the evening before, April 11, when his sister got into a scuffle with Anderson’s sister at Attucks Park.
“They’ve fought like three, four times,” Xe’Quan said. “They got to fighting, and I was finna jump in and he pulled the gun out on me. He told me if I moved he was gonna kill me, and I saw he had his hand shaking.”
Xe’Quan, his friends and his sister left the park. But rather than notify police, Xe’Quan “brushed it off.”
“I don’t care how much bad blood our sisters have. I considered this man one of my friends,” Xe’Quan said. “He would shake our hands every time he saw us in the hallway.”
Now, as he reflects on the incident, Xe’Quan believes Anderson brought the gun on the bus “to make a bigger image for himself,” he said.
“He used to get bullied and beat up, and I think he felt he had to protect himself with a gun,” Xe’Quan said. “I’ve got messages from him in November and back, where he kept asking me, do I know anybody with guns. I kept telling him no. I never really paid attention to it until now.”
The brothers agree that Anderson probably didn’t intend to pull the trigger when he brandished the gun the following day on the bus.
“He did pull it out though, and that’s still an issue,” Jay’Quan said. "You’re on a bus full of kids."
“When I tried to pull it away, it was on my stomach, and he easily could’ve been just like ‘boom’,” Xe’Quan added.
The incident was not the boys’ first experience with gun violence. Both had been threatened at gunpoint before, they said, including by a man who bullied Jay’Quan, when the brothers lived with their mother in Indianapolis.
“I tried to keep my composure so it wouldn’t happen,” Jay’Quan told The Southern. “I’m thinking, if I’m shaking and I’m nervous and acting weird, they’re going to think something’s up and they’re going to pull the trigger. I was like ‘I’ma try find a way out, I’ma try to find away out.’ When I found it, I took it, and ran.”
In July 2013, Xe’Quan witnessed the murder of his cousin, Donathan Brown, in a drive-by shooting in the 400 block of East Jackson Street in Carbondale.
“I sent my cousin through the alley, and threw my little brother across the yard, and I had to guard them as we ran,” Xe’Quan said. “After the second or third time I’m just like this is not something I want to get used to.”
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Now, Jay’Quan said, gun violence doesn't scare him like it used to.
“That’s bad to say. That’s horrible to say that I’m somewhat used to having guns pulled on me,” he said.
Jay’Quan, a junior at CCHS, is a stocky, strong kid who played football until his after-school job at Steak ‘n Shake took up all his time. Since age 8, he has dreamed of being a lawyer.
He’s “nonchalant and humble,” Xe’Quan says, and uses “intelligent words,” like extensive, apt and in lieu of.
Xe’Quan, a sophomore, is slimmer and more talkative. He loves basketball, and has long dreamed of a college scholarship.
“I used to be the hothead, but now I’m like the poster boy for peace,” Jay’Quan said.
“And we swapped places,” Xe’Quan said.
Both boys are proud of their actions on the bus, but Xe’Quan has one regret, he told The Southern. After stripping the gun from Anderson, he handed it off to one of the student’s friends. That boy returned the gun to Anderson, after Jay’Quan threw him off the bus.
“I should’ve kept it and gave it to the cops, because now that gun’s back on the street and lord knows where it is,” Xe’Quan said. “But I wasn’t thinking. I’m just thinking 'I’m on camera with a gun in my hand, they’re going to think, 'oh he had the gun.'' Everything was just going too fast.”
Since the incident, the boys have been living with their father in Zeigler.
Both say they want to return to Carbondale, where their friends and family live, and to CCHS.
“When I was at (Zeigler-Royalton High School) I was the only black kid, so I had a target on my back basically,” Xe’Quan said. “I don’t want to go back to that.”
But missed communications have slowed the brothers’ return to CCHS.
CCHS has asked Jay’Quan and Xe’Quan’s guardian to meet with school administrators before allowing the boys to return to class.
“We need to work out a plan about getting them back into school safely and productively,” Superintendent Steve Murphy said.
However, repeated attempts by school principals, and by Murphy himself to contact the children’s father, Jeremy Jackson, were unsuccessful, Murphy said.
For his part, Jackson denies the school made efforts to get in touch.
“I don’t know where the communication breakdown was,” Murphy said. “I do know the first time he called me back, I picked up and we scheduled a meeting.”
The two will meet Thursday morning to discuss the boys’ return to school, Murphy said. Both boys are eager to return to class and get caught up.
“This made me realize that every day is not promised,” Xe’Quan said. “I have a child on the way, so I’m just focused on myself, my family and my school work.”
“I’m glad I’m able to just live and breathe another day.”