May 4, 2016 – Fort Valley State University faculty, staff and students are remembering Donnell Phelps fondly on campus one day after the 19-year-old student died following a stabbing attack. The freshman, who was majoring in agricultural engineering, was known as a kind, jovial and supportive scholar who always wore a smile on his face.
“I know he was a very helpful person,” said Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim, an FVSU associate professor of agricultural economics. “He loved to always joke around. I think it’s very unfortunate that someone who wanted to do something in life had it ended by someone else for absolutely no reason.”
Phelps’ alleged attacker, Joseph Anthony Scott Jr., is a former FVSU student who was taken into custody shortly after the incident that also resulted in injuries to campus security officer Earnest Johnson.
Phelps became part of the FVSU family while a junior at Macon County High School through FVSU’s Young Scholars Program. The summer program, which no longer exists, helped minority students learn about agricultural-related fields and careers from the university’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology.
Dr. Archie L. Williams, head of FVSU’s department of engineering technology and associated professor of agricultural & biological engineering, served as Phelps’ mentor. He said Phelps was a hard worker, always doing his best to help others.
“Donnell cared more about other people than he did about himself,” Williams said. “He would give his last to help someone else. He worked really hard and was dependable. He didn’t understand everything, but he would work really hard to try and understand. We had three students that summer, and three different projects going on. One student was interested in a GPS project, another in unmanned aerial vehicles. We allowed the three students (that included Donnell) to help each other out. Donnell would take GPS coordinates. He truly cared about other people. He had a good heart.”
During high school, Phelps was actively involved in various activities, including serving as president of the Macon County High Future Farmers of America Club. He also played tennis and basketball for the school and enjoyed activities like drawing, video games and anything agriculture related.
When Phelps graduated from high school in 2015, he received a scholarship from farmers within Macon County to attend FVSU. Once on campus, Phelps quickly became involved with several organizations, including managing the FVSU tennis team.
Phelps’ peers and fellow students called him a hero for losing his life trying to protect others. Investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Phelps was attacked after coming to the aid of three female students who were being harassed by 25-year-old Scott. Scott, who was apprehended on campus shortly after the attack on Phelps and Johnson, has been charged in the attacks.
“Donnell was a true testament of the spirit in which Fort Valley State University will always stand for,” Mr. FVSU 2016-2017 Kalo Oglesby and Ms. FVSU 2016-2017 Candice Howard said in a joint statement. “Even in the face of tragedy, he stood for what was right. There is something to be said about the young life, which has hopes and dreams to fulfill the unforgiving minute with sixty-seconds of distance run. We know that FVSU is a true family and we also know that we will come together during this difficult time as families always do. We want to gather in unity to support Donnell M. Phelps, his family at home and his Wildcat Family. Please join us in praying for peace, comfort, safety and for the answers everyone is desperately seeking.”
FVSU freshman Idalls Forte knew Phelps. The freshman class president said she remembered him as being outgoing, caring and fun with a smile on his face. Forte first met Phelps during freshman orientation week on campus.
“He would always stop and speak every time I saw him,” Forte said. “He was a sweet student, nice to everybody. If he saw you upset, he would ask, ‘Why aren’t you smiling…remember tomorrow will be a brand new day. Tomorrow it will be better.”
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