A former Newton Police Officer will be facing multiple counts of murder after he allegedly opened fire at a Meridian residence, killing his fiancée and Meridian Police Officer Kennis Croom on Thursday night.
According to the U.S. Marshal’s Service press release, D’Ante Marquez Bender, 31, was arrested at 10:15 a.m. Friday in Ackerman.
Bender is charged with first degree murder and capital murder, according to the Meridian Star. He was booked into the Lauderdale County Correctional Facility at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
After being taken into custody in Lauderdale County, WTOK-TV reporter Tom Williams asked Bender questions about the incident. During the exchange, Bender denied that he committed the crime.
“I didn’t do it,” Bender said on camera.
‘Tragic and senseless’
The incident occurred at the 2,400th block of 51st Avenue in Meridian at the home of his fiancée, Brittany Jones, 30. Jones had previously been a resident of Newton County.
Meridian Police Chief Deborah Naylor Young said during a press conference that her department received the call at 5:20 p.m. She said Croom was the first officer on the scene. He advised that one person was being held at gunpoint and shortly later that gunshots were being fired.
“The second officer that was called out with Officer Croom arrived on the scene called out that Officer Croom was down,” Young said in a press conference Friday. “When officers checked the residence, they discovered a female Brittany Jones inside suffering from a gunshot wound. Ms. Jones was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
Young said Croom was transported to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
“This whole incident is tragic and senseless,” Young said. “Officer Kennis Croom lost his life doing what he loved, serving this community. He was full of passion, joy and dedication.
“Although yesterday was his day off, he chose to come in and serve, which he was known to do regularly.”
She also extended her condolences to both Croom’s family and Jones’ family. She also asked for prayers for the department, the families and community.
The search in Newton County
Immediately after the incident occurred, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation issued a statewide blue alert looking for Bender.
At that time, Newton County Sheriff Joedy Pennington said his deputies went to work looking for Bender.
“I called everybody in, and we searched all over for Bender,” Pennington said. “We weren’t going to stop until he was found. This is a tragic loss of life that should have never happened.”
Pennington said they had assistance from the U.S. Marshal’s Office, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Newton Police Department. Pennington said he could not confirm whether Bender was ever in Newton County between the time of the incident in Meridian until his capture in Ackerman.
On Friday morning at 9 a.m., the Choctaw County Sheriff’s Department received a tip that Bender was possibly located in their county. Just over an hour later, he was taken into custody behind an the former Cagle’s Corner now known as Ackerman Express in Ackerman, which is located at the intersection of Hwy. 12 and 15 about 75 miles north of his hometown of Newton and 80 miles from the location of the alleged incident.
Marshals were assisted by the Ackerman Police Department, Choctaw County Sheriff’s Department and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. They also confiscated a weapon that was in Bender’s possession at the time of the arrest that they believe is the murder weapon.
Bender was later placed in the handcuffs that belonged to Croom before he was transported back to Meridian, according to photos posted by the Ackerman Police Department.
Bender previously fired by NPD
Bender had previously served as a Newton Police officer during two different administrations. A city official confirmed that Bender served once under former Police Chief Harvey Curry and once under current Police Chief Randy Patrick.
According to meeting minutes from Jan. 18, 2022, the Newton Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to terminate him from the Newton Police Department on the recommendation of Patrick.
The exact date of when Bender was terminated by Curry is not immediately known. Curry served as police chief until 2019.
Memorial Service information
A memorial service for Officer Croom will be at 1 p.m. Thursday at Meridian High School. A visitation will be Friday from noon to 4 p.m. in Northport, Ala., along with an Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Omega Ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday at the funeral home. A celebration of life will be at 12:30 p.m. at Shelton State Community College and will lie in state 90 minutes prior to service.
Burial will be at Memory Hill Gardens in Tuscaloosa.
As of Monday afternoon, arrangements have not been set Brittany Jones.