BLACKSBURG — Jerry Paul Smith didn’t like to leave his family hanging.
The 40-year-old Blacksburg resident was always quick to return a phone call from his immediate family. They began to suspect something was amiss when Smith didn’t answer repeated phone calls on Tuesday.
That concern didn’t prepare them for the call they received from the Blacksburg Police Department later that night to inform them that Smith had been found dead in his apartment in the 100 block of North Main Street in downtown.
The state medical examiner’s office has since said that Smith died from a blunt force injury to the head and listed the manner of death as homicide.
Virginia Tech freshman Ismemen David Etute, 18, who was a linebacker on the football team, was arrested Wednesday morning on a charge of second-degree murder. In a brief court appearance Thursday, he was appointed an attorney, Naomi Huntington of Radford.
On Friday, however, Radford lawyer Jimmy Turk said he is now representing Etute. He said he still is familiarizing himself with the case but called it “heartbreaking.”
Turk said that he deplored any apparent killing, but that his client seems to be an exceptional young man who came to Virginia Tech on a full scholarship and had never been a problem for anyone before.
On Friday, a spokesperson for the family said they are trying to come to terms with whatever happened. Smith has an older brother and was close with his nephews, who nicknamed him Gigi.
“We are so at a loss at everything that’s going on,” said the spokesperson, who requested anonymity based on fears of online harassment. The family has been dismayed at the speculation about the case they are seeing on the internet, the person said.
“There are horrible stories out there,” the person said. “At the end of the day, no matter what he did or didn’t do, nobody deserves what he got. Whatever happened gives nobody the right to react that way. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t.”
Smith has a lengthy legal history, with charges over the years in Montgomery, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, including driving under the influence, reckless driving, public intoxication and filing a false police report, as well as charges that were dismissed. But the family didn’t know anything about that, the spokesperson said.
“We know nothing,” the person said. “I’m going to be honest with you. We know nothing about that. There’s been nothing said to us about it by the police or anything.”
The family spokesperson described Smith as a proud, openly gay man with a passion for working in the restaurant industry. In recent years, Smith worked at Centro Taco Bar, Black Hen and D.P. Dough in downtown Blacksburg.
“He was so proud,” the person said. “Everybody knew he was a gay man. He did not like women. He was very proud of who he was.”
The family hopes he wasn’t targeted because of that.
“Regardless of what he did, he did not deserve this,” the spokesperson said. “He was maybe 112 pounds soaking wet. He wasn’t a threat to nobody. He wasn’t a threat to a fly. He wasn’t a dangerous person. Nobody has a right to take someone’s life. Whatever happened should not have happened.”
Staff writer Mike Gangloff contributed information to this report.