Death at Central Texas trail riding party shines spotlight on violence, need for change

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 10:44 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The man runover and shot over the weekend in Waco during a trail ride party has been identified as Scotty Stephens, 25.

Stephens participated in a day of horse riding along with an estimated 1,000 other people on Saturday. He followed that up by a attending the party at a privately owned field in the overnight hours, according to law enforcement, a man dressed in camouflage carrying an AK-47 opened fire at about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Investigators with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office said Stephens was the person the gunman was targeting. Several vehicles were struck by bullets, and the driver of one of the vehicles ran over Stephens while trying to flee the chaos.

“It’s just a very sad situation, a young man, 25-years-old, gets gunned down in cold blood like this,” said Sheriff Parnell McNamara.

Stephens’ family says he was not in a gang, but some of his family members may have been.

As a result, investigators believe Stephens was the victim of gang-related retaliation in connection with a murder that happened over the July Fourth weekend.

“Everybody knows the difference between a cowboy and a gang--a gang is a set of organized criminals, we’re none of that, and neither was ‘John Wayne Kelly,’” Stephens’ aunt told the crowd during a balloon release in his honor at Dewey Park Monday night. “Cut the violence because we’re tired, as parents, of letting these balloons go.”

Stephens had many nicknames including ‘John Wayne Kelly’, his family says, because he was a true cowboy who loved horseback riding.

“It’s hard to say goodbye, we don’t understand it, but it’s God’s will, he’s in a better place,” the aunt said. “We need to try to get there with him, but we’ve got to live right, we need to cut the safe, and make better choices.”

Stephens was part of a riding group called “No Limits”.

“We’re real hurt because he’s not a violent person,” said Cedric Stephens. “He doesn’t associate in gangs, he loved trail riding, he loved partying on the weekends.”

However, Sheriff McNamara says the ‘partying’ has gotten out of control.

“It’s a huge crowd, total mayhem,” said McNamara “They call it a ‘trail ride’--it’s anything but a trail ride, there’s probably more horses out here on the street than there were at that place.”

Neighbors who live near the party’s location, the 5400 block of Orchard Ln., say they’re fed up as several have experienced violence when people trickle out of the property to go home.

One woman, who is too scared to be identified, told KWTX about how it’s affected her family.

“It showed us the gravity of disrespect and unprovoked violence in this world that can happen to anyone and the lack of help our local PD would give,” she said. “For a long time we avoided anyone on horse back in our neighborhood, something my youngest child always loved turned into something so negative.”

She says she’d like to see the trail rides become safe place again.

“I believe the trail rides, initially, were peaceful, familial gatherings, they do a lot of good for their members and I support that, it’s something this world and our children need,” she said. “However, I believe that it has grown in popularity so much that to many outsiders, it’s just a party, it’s not about the horses and actual riding or the community, many are abusing these gatherings and bringing in violence and lawlessness, and that part has to stop.”

Stephens’ family members agree the parties are getting out of hand, however, they say the people causing the trouble are outsiders who are not in trail riding groups.

The goal now, they say, is to stop the parties, and stop the violence.

“Ever since COVID-19 an all the parties stopped, everybody came to the trail rides,” said Cedric Stephens. “Right now we’re about to stop it, we’re just going to stop for a while because we see nothing good coming from trail riding right now, more of the children are coming in instead of the adults, we’re losing the adults because we’re having hectic parties at the end and people who don’t want to go home, youngsters driving cars wild, getting on four-wheelers and doing crazy things.”

McNamara says they’re looking into alternative ways to control the situation.

“In my opinion it’s a dangerous place, the way they’re handling it,” said McNamara. “It’s private property...we’re looking into what we might be able to do about it.”

The man who shot Stephens was not in custody as of Monday night, however, authorities believe they know who he is.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the MCSO at (254) 757-5095.

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