As we continue to look back at the top stories from 2018, this story began more than two years ago when Kody Lott murdered Lauren Landavazo and injured her good friend Mikayla Smith as they walked home from school.
The September murder and aggravated assault trial for Lott was moved to Tarrant County because of the extensive media coverage in Wichita Falls.
Lauren Landavazo’s parents also sued Lott and his family for $1 million prior to the criminal trial getting underway.
In March, Lott was ruled mentally incompetent, but another mental exam was ordered and the trial went on as planned on September 13.
During her opening statement, District Attorney Maureen Shelton said Lott not only planned the attack but then hid for 48 hours and even monitored social media for chatter about the crime. Shelton became emotional recounting the shootings as did many witnesses.
“It’s almost unbearable for parents and family to go back through that again, so it’s been a very emotional day, but I know for them to get it off and out of their system, for her I know it was very healing for her today,” said Reverend Pamela Hart, Mikayla Smith’s Aunt.
Four students testified they saw a gold SUV stop and a firearm come from a window and heard shot after shot before seeing Landavazo fall to the ground.
Mikayla Smith testified when she was shot, she was so worried about her friend, it was sometime before she noticed she was also shot.
“I think she saved a lot of kids that day, because she kept saying she wanted everybody to run, run, she wasn’t thinking about herself, but she wanted the kids to get out of the way.” Reverend Hart said
Evidence included Landavazo’s binder and book with bullet holes all the way through them. The medical examiner who performed her autopsy said Landavazo was shot 15 times and also suffered three graze wounds.
Landavazo’s parents decided to leave the courtroom when Lott’s confession was played. Investigators said Lott first lied about the shooting saying he was in Olney. In the confession, Lott called the shooting spiritual and said he felt bad at first.
In a phone call with his parents from jail, his stepfather asked if he did it and Lott replied “I just did it man, I don’t know” and his mother told him he had messed up his whole life and to have fun in jail.
After several days of testimony, it took less than an hour for the jury to come back with a guilty verdict on all charges and Lott was given life in prison.
“Even though the result of today, it doesn’t bring Lauren back, it doesn’t make us miss her any less, it doesn’t make her death any less tragic. There is a closure that you get when you know that the person responsible is going to suffer,” said Vern Landavazo, Lauren’s father.
Ribbons of purple, Lauren’s favorite color, waved in the streets of Wichita Falls when the families returned from the trial.
A month after the trial Lott filed a motion for a new trial, but it was rejected in November and is now before a higher court.
Throughout the year, the community showed their support for the Landavazo’s. The Boots and Badges Blood Drive added Lauren’s name and in June an angel statue was erected at the MPEC in Lauren’s honor.
In October, Vern Landavazo’s coworkers at Sheppard Air Force Base raised money, so he and his wife could have a vacation at the Broken Bow cabins in Oklahoma.
“It’s overwhelming really, you guys help us get through and it’s just a blessing,” Bianka Landavazo, Lauren’s mother.
Through all the pain and loss, Lauren’s family has one overriding hope.
“We’d like for her to be remembered as a lively, vibrant, young woman who had a lot of love for life,” said Pete Serrano, Lauren’s grandfather.
Read our other Top Stories of 2018:
- Top Story 2018: Studio E shootings
- Top Story 2018: Fatal DPS chase, shooting
- Top Story 2018: Investigation into Heath Hodges death
- Top Story 2018: Olney PD finds their new lead man
- Top Story 2018: Former Wichita Falls police officer shoplifting ring
- Top Story 2018: MMA Fighter Bubba McDaniel loses his son
- Top Story 2018: Remembering Shawn Marie Ramon
- Top Story 2018: Wichita Falls bond election