Published: 12:00 AM, Mon May 07, 2012
Family and friends honor Lamonte Saffore, a former high school football standout, killed in March
Lamonte Deshay Saffore, the personable, ever-smiling defensive back at South View High School, was going places as his senior year began in the fall of 2007.
His final season as a Tiger would be a standout one. He would go on to record 80 tackles, an interception and earn Two Rivers All-Conference second-team honors.
His on-field talent caught the eyes of NCAA Division I schools, but it was N.C. Central University that landed him. In February 2008, he signed to play for the Eagles.
It was the same month, friends and family say, that Lamonte's world began a downward spiral that ended when he was shot to death March 24 at a home in Golfview Acres.
"I'm not sure what happened," said Randy Ledford, who coached Lamonte at South View. "He was a good kid. He had the same problems other kids had at that age."
Lamonte was born in Germany and spent his childhood there as part of a military family, his mother, Carla Saffore, said.
As a child, Lamonte was already developing athletic prowess, she said.
Lamonte also had developed the smile that would charm so many people in coming years.
When Lamonte was 11, the Saffore family returned to the United States and settled in Hope Mills.
Lamonte enrolled at Hope Mills Middle School. It was a tough transition for him.
"His very first year, Lamonte couldn't stand it," Saffore said. "But after his first year, it was home."
By the time Lamonte entered South View, he had honed his athletic skills. He played football and basketball and ran track. But football was his passion, his mother said.
"He always said he would do two years at FTCC and then go to a major college once he had all the requirements," Saffore said.
"His uncle told him it was never too late to do that," his aunt, Sandra Harris, said.
Lamonte planned to earn his college degree and open some kind of business, Saffore said. He had not decided what type of business, she said, but whatever business it was, it would be called Montana Max, a nickname bestowed on Lamonte by his friends from his football-playing days. She isn't sure how the moniker was given to him, but said she thinks it could been derived from the shortening of Lamonte to Monte.
It was after Lamonte signed to play at N.C. Central University that something happened, Saffore said.
Neither she nor Ledford know what it was that sent Lamonte on his downward spiral.
His grades plunged. He lost interest in school, began cutting classes and finally, just quit going to school.
"Nothing was driving him," Saffore said. "He just stopped going."
Ledford, too, was baffled.
"I don't know what caused him to stop coming to school," Ledford said. "He had an opportunity to go on and play ball at the next level. He decided he didn't want to do that anymore."
Whatever the reason, when the South View High class of 2008 held its commencement ceremonies, Lamonte was not among those receiving diplomas.
With time on his hands, Lamonte was hanging out with friends, occasionally having brushes with the law, Saffore said, but nothing serious: a few misdemeanor marijuana violations and speeding tickets.
Those tickets may have had something to do with the Chrysler 300 Lamonte commandeered from his father.
The mint green car, powered by a Hemi V-8 engine, was decked out with 22-inch wheel rims and a booming stereo.
"Everywhere he went, people knew it was Lamonte," Saffore said. "They knew his chromed-out car."
Inside the car could be found several of the more than 70 pairs of tennis shoes Lamonte owned, Saffore said. He had a pair to go with every outfit.
By March 2012, Lamonte was turning his life around, Saffore said. He wanted to go to college, maybe even play football again. Lamonte had earned his GED and enrolled in classes at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
Everything was turning around, Saffore said, until the night of March 24.
Lamonte and his fiancee were at Saffore's house that night, watching TV, when he received a message that someone he was looking for was at a house about a mile away on Casper Drive.
Lamonte went outside and, instead of getting into the Chrysler, got into his fiancee's small car and drove away.
Two friends at the residence told Lamonte they would leave a garage door unlocked, Saffore said.
That door had two locks on it, she said, and only one was left unlocked.
Lamonte parked the car and was trying to get into the door when a man whose mother lived there pulled into the driveway.
It was dark and the man didn't recognize the small car parked in the driveway nor did he recognize the man trying to get into the garage.
"He (the man) confronted (Lamonte)," said Sgt. Sheila Merriman of the Hope Mills Police Department, "and Lamonte turned around and raised his (gun)."
The other man fired. The bullet killed Lamonte.
"It was a clear-cut case of self-defense," Merriman said. "We interviewed people, did polygraphs and ran our findings through the (District Attorney's) office to make sure."
No charges were filed.
"It's just a very tragic set of circumstances and our heart goes out to both families," Merriman said.
Lamonte's funeral was held at Pinecrest Funeral Home & Crematorium off Elk Road in Hope Mills.
Every seat was taken. People stood outside the doors or watched the service on closed-circuit television from another room.
It was a testimony and salute to the affable young man with the big smile.
"You couldn't not like him," said one friend, who wouldn't give his name, as he waited for the service to begin.
Tucked in the corner of Lamonte's open casket was a picture showing a young man with long dreadlocks, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, hugging his knees and boasting a smile that would warm the coldest of hearts.
A close friend, identified only as Charles, spoke of Lamonte's ability to live and love and his unforgettable smile.
"Lamonte had a gift of love and compassion," Charles said. "Standing here today, in front of all y'all, I can see Lamonte had the gift of love."
Charles closed his remarks with words from a poem he composed after his friend's death.
"The sun poked through the clouds and I knew it was Lamonte, smiling down."
Staff writer Nancy McCleary can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3568.