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Family of victim killed at festival files lawsuit, organizers push to keep festival going

Evereoanna Sankey
Posted at 11:02 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 00:01:00-04

HENDRY COUNTY, Fla. — Thursday, the Harlem Academy Alumni Association, Inc. along with the Hendry County Sheriffs department met with the community to see what can be done to reduce the violence at the Brown Sugar Festival, after a young woman was fatally shot at the event.

Evereonna Sankey was one of the many people enjoying the 2021 Brown Sugar Festival last May. The festival is an event to honor the heritage of the black community and give our scholarships. However, that celebration turned into a night of tragedy.


“I feel terrible for the family, I feel horrible, I sincerely do. Our investigators are working really hard on this case. This investigation itself has taken them across the state and over state lines,” said Captain Susan Harrelle, Spokeswoman for the Hendry County Sheriff's department “I just don’t know what to say, other than I am just truly sorry and I know the grief and the pain that they feel.”


That night, four people were hurt when gunshots rang out, and Sankey, who just graduated from nursing school was killed by a stray bullet.

“I watched those deputies that continued to do CPR, I watched how they put their own lives in harm's way,” Harrelle said.

Nearly one year later, no one is in custody for firing that bullet. Sankey’s family attorney confirmed to Fox 4 they have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Harlem Academy Alumni Association.

"Good afternoon. This is Attorney Joe North. Yes, I represent the Estate of Evereonna Sankey, through her mother, Teresa Sankey. We have filed a Wrongful Death lawsuit against the Harlem Academy Alumni Association, Inc. d/b/a Brown Sugar Festival. The lawsuit is based upon Negligent Security. In other words, we believe the shooting of Evereonna Sankey happened due to the failure of the organizers of the Brown Sugar Festival to have security at the festival on May 1, 2021. In addition to obtaining monetary compensation for the wrongful death of Evereonna Sankey, it is our hope that the Brown Sugar Festival will not be held at all this year. And as for future years, the festival should not be held without proper security protocols."
Attorney Joe North

Meanwhile, some in the Harlem community are trying to push forward to keep a tradition older than 40-years alive.


“Both of the deaths on the day of the Brown Sugar Festival were actually after the Brown Sugar Festival,” said Janet Taylor, a member in the community. “We actually had a young man who got killed at an event in Fort Myers, they didn’t stop that event. I do feel remorse for that family, but I think the festival should continue“


“People are concerned because for the past 40 years, Brown Sugar always did contribute to scholarships for students who are graduating,” said Rev. Gwen Patrick-Griffiths, organizer of the Brown Sugar Festival.


Rev. Patrick-Griffiths said the 2022 festival will memorialize Sankey’s young life. The party will also be scaled down without the DJs and large gatherings.

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“What we are hoping to have a quiet-like barbecue type thing in people’s yards. We are Calling it a yardy party,” Rev.. Patrick-Griffiths said.

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Fox 4’s Briana Brownlee did speak with Sankey’s mother. With the pending lawsuit, she could not do an interview. However, she said the reward money for information about the shooter is now up to $21,000. Crime stoppers contributed $8,000, the community donated $2,000 and the rest is from the family.