Murdered Gastonia teen remembered; accused killer in court

John Edward McGill is being held at the Gaston County Detention Center without bond.
John Edward McGill is being held at the Gaston County Detention Center without bond.

By Jeff Rivenbark - email

GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) - Over a hundred people came out to remember a pregnant teenager who was murdered by a bullet not meant for her.

17 year old Keeaira Pendergrass was killed Thursday night after a gunfight erupted around her boyfriend's home.

Family, friends, and Ashbrook High classmates of Pendergrass spent their Friday night at Emmanuel Baptist Church remembering her.

Just 24 hours after her daughter was senselessly murdered, Taunia Elliott was strong enough to stand in front of the crowd and forgive the killer.

"I don't hate him," she said from the front of the sancturay.  "I don't hate him at all -- I love him."

Tonia says her Christian faith enables her to forgive.

The shooting that took her daughter was the third shooting this week in the 500 block of West Harrison Avenue. Taunya told the teens in the audience to make the violence stop, and warned them not to seek revenge for her daughter's death.

"If y'all love my daughter, don't retaliate, because the police are doing their job, and justice will prevail," she told WBTV after the vigil.

Demertrious Kearney was Keeaira's boyfriend. He says Thursday night's shooting happened because of some guys who had a beef with his little brother.  Demetrius was there as the bullet hit Keeaira.

"She snatched off her necklace, and was like, baby don't leave me, baby don't leave me," Kearney said.

Kearney's said he'd been dating Pendergrass for several months, but didn't meet her mother until after the murder.

Now they've both lost a 17 year old they dearly loved.

"I can't hold my baby, I can't touch her, I can't tell her I love her," said Elliott.  "I can't tell her everything's going to be alright because they took her from me, and for what?"

Police have arrested and charged a man with Pendergrass's murder.

John Edward McGill, 21, of Gastonia was arrested early Friday morning.

Police tell WBTV more arrests are expected to be made in the case.  Sgt. Jimmy West would not say if there was type of relationship between McGill and the victim, Keeaira Pendergrass.

Investigators say the 17-year-old was in the early stages of pregnancy.

She was sitting on the porch of a home at 516 W. Harrison Avenue with Kearney.  Police believe Pendergrass was an innocent bystander and not the intended target of the shooting.

WBTV captured video of a fight which broke out following the shooting. Police had to intervene to separate the crowd.

Pendergrass was enrolled at Ashbrook High School.  Detectives told us she was performing well at school and making A's and B's in her classes.

Police have not confirmed if this lastest shooting was gang related, but neighbors told WBTV there have been gang issues in the area.

There will be another community gathering at Friendship Christian Baptist Chruch on Bradley Steet in Gastonia on Monday at 7:30 p.m.

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(The Gastonia Police Department released the following statement Friday morning.)

Arrest in Homicide

Gastonia Police made an arrest today in a shooting Thursday night on West Harrison Avenue that resulted in the death of a 17-year-old Gastonia girl.

John Edward McGill, 21 (DOB: 3-9-1988), 679 Winston Drive, Gastonia, is charged with first degree murder in the shooting which killed Keeaira Pendergrass of 810 W. Davidson Ave. Ms. Pendergrass was sitting on the front porch at 516 W. Harrison Ave. with her boyfriend when the shooting occurred. Ms. Pendergrass is not believed to be the intended target of the shooting.

A volatile crowd gathered after the shooting and police had to break up a fight.

The investigation is continuing.