Jonathon Bell often visited the local McDonald’s in Brookland, Ark., for hours to spend time over coffee with his grandfather. But after three years as a home-schooled teenager, he wanted to enlarge his circle outside the family.
“He never met a stranger [because] he talked to everybody,” his mother, Patty Bell, told msnbc. “He never met someone who he didn’t talk to. If you ever met Jonathon you became his friend, and you were friends for life.” He didn’t want to be the center of attention, but making people laugh made him happy.
Jonathon, 17, was born in Jonesboro, Ark., and grew up in nearby Brookland. After being home-schooled, he began attending a vocational school to earn his GED with the hope of one day becoming a truck driver; he wanted to travel. He boasted about recently passing a test in math, his hardest subject. The red-headed “country boy” was an avid pool player and enjoyed outdoor sports, especially deer and squirrel hunting, and fishing. He often wore camouflage clothes, boots, a hat, and sunglasses.
He was usually the first member to arrive at his church’s youth group meetings. Sometimes he returned home earlier than expected because he was the only person who had shown up. Still, “at church he found people,” his mother said, “who were willing to accept him for who he was.”
Jonathon unintentionally shot himself on Sept. 18 outside of a restaurant in Jonesboro after dining with members of his youth ministry group.