ALTON — A young evangelist apparently accidentally fatally shot himself in the head early Saturday while handling a gun he believed was not functioning properly.
A Madison County Coroner’s Office investigator pronounced Austin Jazz Wilcox, 18, dead at 1:34 a.m., who was seated in a chair in the living room of his apartment in the 700 block of Washington Avenue. Wilcox had sustained a single gunshot wound to his head, Coroner Steve Nonn said.
People inside the apartment told police that Wilcox recently obtained the semi-automatic handgun and had said it was not functioning properly, that it would not fire, Nonn said.
“Witnesses said they began watching television in the living room when they heard a gunshot,” Nonn said. “They turned around to see that Wilcox had shot himself with the handgun he had been playing with earlier.”
One of the occupants called 911; police who responded to the apartment then requested the coroner’s office send an investigator when they determined Wilcox was deceased.
Preliminary results of the autopsy indicate cause of death appeared to be a single gunshot wound to the head, Nonn said. Routine toxicology testing for presence of alcohol or drugs will be performed.
Alton police continue investigating the shooting.
Visitation will be 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Elias, Kallal and Schaaf Funeral Home, 1313 W. Delmar Ave., Godfrey. Wilcox’s funeral service then will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home, with Pastor Greg Harp officiating.
Burial will follow at Valhalla Memorial Park in Godfrey.
Alton High Principal Russ Tepen said Wilcox completed his graduation requirements early, in December, but “walked” at the May commencement ceremony. He said teachers have been calling Tepen in shock and deep sadness over the death of the recent student.
“We consider our students as family, and the loss of a student is a loss of a family member,” Tepen said. “We just celebrated graduation in May. This has shocked the ‘family’ to the core. It really does affect everybody.”
Tepen said he did not know Wilcox well, but does remember his cheerfulness.
“He was always joking and friendly, very personable,” Tepen said. “It is just a shame, he had so much energy to give. It was so unfortunate.”
Tepen said he would honor Wilcox when school resumes, verbally and likely with a memorial or tree planting.
Wilcox was the son of John Wilcox of Herrin and Lisa (Everhart) Light and her husband Paul of Godfrey.
With nickname of “NawNaw,” Wilcox was involved with “Misfits for Jesus,” whereby he and his father evangelized to homeless people in St. Louis. He was talented musically and enjoyed writing and producing his own music for IYF Productions, his obituary says.
He was a member of 1st Assembly of God in Wood River.
Besides his parents and grandparents, Wilcox is survived by nine siblings, among other relatives. Among condolences people left on the funeral home’s website (http://www.eliaskallalandschaaf.com) was:
• “You will be dearly missed bro, fly high,” John Stonecipher.
• “You will always be remembered! Xoxo,” Angelina Everhart-Robbins.
• “Austin, you will be greatly missed. You always had a smile on your face and brought joy to those who knew you. You are with our Heavenly Father now, may he hold you close in his arms. Uncle John,” John Adragna
Memorials may be made at www.misfitsforjesus.com.
Linda N. Weller can be reached at at 618-208-6450 or on Twitter @Linda_Weller.