10-year-old YouTuber from SC said he was ‘going places.’ 2 weeks later he was killed
Ricky Willis was going places.
Lying on his belly on his bed, the 10-year-old pointed a camera at himself and said as much in a video posted to his YouTube channel recently.
His family was the star of his short films. That included his mother, from whom he was all but inseparable.
But the channel has been dark since Sunday, the only activity comments offering condolences left under the clips.
Ricky, who went by Ryon, and his mom, Stephanie Willis, both from Beaufort, were shot and killed during an incident at their Tampa, Florida, apartment Sunday. Police have charged a man in the shooting deaths they say was the woman’s boyfriend , according to local news reports.
Stephanie Willis, 34, was born and raised in Beaufort and moved with her son to Florida about five years ago, said Amber Hewitt, Stephanie Willis’ stepmother and Ricky’s grandmother.
“They were always together,” Hewitt said. “You could not separate the two of them.
They cherished each other. Ryon was very protective of her.”
Stephanie Willis — then Stephanie Chisolm — attended Battery Creek High School and worked at a local hotel before moving to Florida, Hewitt said. Family and friends are raising money through the online fundraising website GoFundMe to pay for a Beaufort funeral and burial at www.gofundme.com/stephanie-amp-ryon-willis.
More than $4,092 of an $8,000 goal had been raised as of Thursday morning.
Funeral arrangements for the mother and son will be handled by Allen Funeral Home and are pending, according to the funeral home.
Suspect from Beaufort area
Tyrone Terell Johnson, 42, was arrested in the shooting and charged with two counts of murder, aggravated child abuse and shooting in a building, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said. He is being held without bond, online jail records show.
A Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman declined a request from The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet for the incident report, citing an active investigation.
Johnson told deputies he and Stephanie Willis argued over him wanting to change the television channel to a football game, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Johnson told investigators he went into a bedroom to pack belongings and sent his father a message to pick him up, the newspaper reported, referencing an arrest report.
He said Stephanie Willis confronted Johnson in the bedroom, pushing him from a knee roller he used because of a foot injury and that the boy then approached and accused Johnson of hitting his mother, the Times reported.
Johnson told investigators he then pushed Ricky and used a 40-caliber handgun to shoot Stephanie Willis and her son, local reports said, citing the arrest records.
The arrest report said Johnson and Stephanie Willis had lived together about a year, local outlets reported.
Johnson is from the Coosaw area in northern Beaufort County, and he and Stephanie Willis had known one another other nearly all their lives, said Tierra Chisolm, Stephanie Willis’ neice.
Chisolm said Johnson had moved to Florida about a year and a half ago and that his relationship with Stephanie Willis had not been previously abusive. Stephanie Willis’ told Chisolm and other family members in recent weeks she planned to end that relationship, Chisolm said.
Chisolm believes that led to her aunt’s death.
“Stephanie would have never considered even dealing with this guy if she knew what he was about,” she said.
In 1996, when Johnson would have been 20, he was arrested on traffic charges in Colleton County, according to a state criminal history report. That was his only arrest listed on the report.
‘A lasting impression’
In the days leading up to his death, the 10-year-old professional wrestling fan shared his giddiness about meeting WWE stars with his YouTube audience. In other posts, he clipped together photos of family members.
He recently revealed plans to audition for “America’s Got Talent” in December, mimicking dramatic music before breaking the news.
Ricky was in fifth grade.
“Between his mom and the family, he didn’t want for anything,” Chisolm said.
A woman who donated to the online fundraiser, Andrea Varona, posted to the fundraising page that she was Ricky Willis’ third grade teacher.
“I am at a loss for words over this senseless tragedy,” she wrote. “He was such a loving, funny boy and my absolute favorite student.”
Nicole Baldwin posted that Ricky was in her fourth grade class last year and that she had known him since second grade.
“He left a lasting impression on all of us and we already miss him immensely,” she wrote.