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Questions will remain, but family should have space to mourn

Mississippi Highway 1 neither seems nor sounds like a main artery from one significant location or another, but it is.

For me, it’s a branch off U.S. 61 heading north from Lorman, Mississippi, where Alcorn State University is located. Twice during my four years covering the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions, I started my Sunday after game day taking off from nearby Vicksburg, heading up the bigger highway and heading northwest on that lonely state road from Rolling Fork.

Ten years ago, I frequented this little trail from my first managerial job in Greenville on the way to Hollandale, whose high school was forging a journey to the 2A state championship game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, Ole Miss’ former home away from home. Either that, or I headed the opposite direction to Ray Brooks School, whose football team won the 1A state title.

Greenville is the next significant town north of Vicksburg. Both are casino towns situated along the Mississippi River. Just before Greenville is a little dot on the map called Glen Allan.

Outside of this little area is where the life of Altee Tenpenny ended in tragedy, leaving me stunned hundreds of miles away.

First, the background:

Tenpenny was a gifted running back out of North Little Rock (Arkansas) High School who spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons as a reserve running back for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Reportedly looking for more playing time, he transferred to UNLV, but was kicked off the team in August because, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he broke team rules which head coach Tony Sanchez didn’t specify. Tenpenny had just transferred from Alabama in May.

So, next for Tenpenny was Nicholls State. Because of transfer issues, according to a Nicholls press release, he could not immediately play for the Colonels.

He never got to play a down. He was reportedly arrested early Sunday morning and charged with a possession of a firearm and discharging that weapon. Media reports have it that Tenpenny was dismissed from the team afterward, although Nicholls officials wrote in its final release on Tenpenny that he “recently resigned” from their school. You take a guess.

Two days later, I dabbled into my Facebook feed and read an entry from a fellow reporter in Pine Bluff:

“Just heard the news about Altee Tenpenny,” he wrote at 11:52 p.m. Tuesday. “My heart is broken. He was a tremendous young man. RIP Altee. Gone too soon.”

I Googled “Altee Tenpenny.” Nothing had popped up about his death, but I figured more was to come.

The next day, details of his death were revealed and the whole situation dominated Arkansas headlines. He died in a one-car wreck outside Glen Allan, on that lonely highway branching off that big U.S. 61 straight north from Thibodaux. Al.com cited the Mississippi Highway Patrol, adding he collided with a highway sign at approximately 5 p.m. Tuesday, heading home to North Little Rock.

But that one Facebook post, which my fellow reporter said was an expression of grief, helped the story of Tenpenny’s death gain traction, which he lamented:

“If one more person tweets me, emails me, or inboxes me asking for phone numbers of people close to Altee Tenpenny so they can ‘get more details’ I’m going to give them some details they aren’t looking for,” he posted. “Have some freakin’ respect people…”

Maybe it’s just my journalistic being, but I feel both ways about it.

How news breaks or becomes viral in the computer age, and whether or not a high-enough level of respect is shown in producing stories of tragedy, are often debated. Lord knows I only have a high level of respect.

But I’m also interested in what Tenpenny could have been dealing with that led to strange developments. Could his story be a cautionary tale?

Cliché, it may seem, but what makes clichés?

It shakes me that there are no answers to how this tragedy could occur, or how the developments leading to Tenpenny’s death could be prevented. In an era of breaking news, more people than just reporters want to know.

To be certain, my thoughts and prayers are with the young man’s family and friends, and I hope they are able to grieve such a loss in privacy. Maybe the answers will come all in good time.

For now, I’m just stunned that such a promising life ended on such a lonely highway I’m too familiar with.

I.C. Murrell can be reached at 721-2435 or ic.murrell@panews.com. On Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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