Fear grips Charlotte’s schools and neighborhoods during deadly week

Fear grips Charlotte’s schools and neighborhoods during deadly week

Parents waiting in line to pick up their children at North Mecklenburg High on Thursday morning. Photo by Axios Charlotte contributor Alvin Jacobs

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Note: This story was updated at 2:30 Thursday with reports of Malek Moore’s arrest.

“I know you’re asleep but supposedly there’s gonna be a school shooting,” a 15-year-old North Mecklenburg High student wrote in a text to his father Thursday morning.

It was 7:03am; school started at 7.

“I’m up,” Alvin Jacobs responded.

“They said just go to the office and request for me,” Braxton, his son, said. “Then I’ll get an escort to the office.”

By the time Alvin got there, a line was out the door with other parents. It took him nearly 45 minutes to check out his son.

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What’s happening: North Mecklenburg is one of three high schools CMPD says is involved in a deadly, armed back-and-forth that claimed the life of a most innocent victim this week — a 3-year-old boy named Asiah.

  • Asiah was asleep at 11:30pm Tuesday when multiple cars drove past the two-story home where he was sleeping and fired 150 rounds through the windows and vinyl siding.
  • Police say students at North Meck, Hopewell and Julius Chambers High have connections to the shooting. Rumors of retaliatory shootings are all over. And on Thursday, Huntersville police confirmed that they are monitoring threats to Hopewell and North Meck.
  • CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said in a press briefing Thursday that there’s “no evidence threats against our schools are credible.”

Zoom out: This has been a week of widespread anxiety throughout Charlotte. Not only does an armed dispute between teenagers have families afraid to send their kids to school (on top of the pandemic, by the way), there’s been a manhunt for a person who police say killed an artist and teacher named Gabryelle Allnütt near NoDa Monday, among several other alleged crimes.

  • As it happens, Allnütt was only in Charlotte temporarily after fleeing her New Orleans home ahead of Hurricane Ida.
  • The suspect in that case, Malek Moore, left residents of NoDa, Villa Heights and Optimist Park locking doors and scrambling to their Nextdoor app whenever a helicopter is overhead.
  • Thursday afternoon, though, brought a break: WSOC’s Allison Latos reported that Moore had been arrested in Greensboro.

The big picture: It says something about the psyche of a country that alarming text messages have become an expected part of the high school experience for parents.

  • Two Fridays ago, Hough High family members received an email at 1:42pm saying, “WE ARE ON A LOCKDOWN EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. Please do not come to the school.”
  • The week after that, a 15-year-old at Mount Tabor High in Winston-Salem was shot and killed at school.
  • The same week, another 15-year-old was arrested for non-fatally shooting another juvenile during a fight at New Hanover High in Wilmington.

But this thing with the high schools feels like something different. This is all the stories about rising gun violence in Charlotte — the 120 murders last year, the similar rate this year, all the dire warnings from community leaders about teenagers settling scores with guns — joined with the return of in-person learning.

Essentially, Charlotte had a problem with young people carrying out violent crimes against young people already. And now those young people are in school together.

This isn’t stealing a mascot or painting over a rock: This was 150 shots fired into a home.

“Is it a girl? Is it drugs? Is it disrespect?” Jacobs asked rhetorically when I talked to him after he got Braxton home. He’s a friend and a photographer in Charlotte who’s worked on several stories with me, and most recently he’s been artist-in-residence at the Blumenthal for the “Immersive Van Goh” exhibit.

Jacobs’ son Braxton just moved to Charlotte from Fayetteville, where he’d gone through middle school. Braxton’s into skateboarding and anime, Alvin tells me, and hadn’t even heard of the shootings until Thursday morning when someone told him he should probably go home.

At the start of the year, both father and son were worried about all the changes — new city, new high school, no old friends, all in a pandemic.

But now, this?

“This is different,” Jacobs says. He grew up in Rockford, Illinois, in the 1980s and 90s and talks about the violence he saw there. But when he thinks about that, again he says it: “This is different.”

“Now you’ve got what’s called the block is hot. You’ve got the entire city on fire. The police are hot,” he says. “Back then there was like mob control.

“You don’t shoot up an entire house like that. In a neighborhood? On camera?” he says, his voice growing louder. “Are you kidding me? And you killed a kid? A baby?”

The timeline: A series of events led up to killing of 3-year-old Asiah, and to Thursday’s threats:

  • Sept. 5, 6:30pm: 16-year-old Jaylen Xavier Foster was killed in a Labor Day shooting at Trinity Park apartments in North Charlotte. Two other people were shot. A 14-year-old was charged with the crime.
  • Sept. 7, night: CMPD responded to reports of a shooting at Kiev Drive in north Charlotte, then Joe Morrison Lane out near Mountain Island Lake, then back at Kiev Drive.
  • Sept. 7, 11:30pm: The shooting at Asiah’s house.
  • Sept. 8, noon: CMPD chief Johnny Jennings addressed the media and asked, “How can you wake up this morning knowing that your actions last night took the life of a 3-year-old?”

Unanswerable questions like that from Jennings are at the core of our collective pandemic of grief and anxiety.

Here’s another example: My phone’s buzzed a few times in the past three weeks, before any of this even happened. The first two times I picked up, the man on the other end apologized.

  • “I’m sorry, I must have the wrong number,” he said, but I knew who it was.
  • A week later, he called again and said, “Oh, sorry, Mike. Meant to call someone else.”
  • “Charles?” I stopped him, this time. “You OK?”

Charles Billings is the father of Jamaa Cassell, an innocent victim of the senseless Beatties Ford Road mass shooting in June 2020. I wrote about him earlier this summer on the year-anniversary.

“Yeah,” Charles said. “I’m good.”

I kept him on the line. He really did mean to call someone else, he says, but still, some days he’s just looking to talk to anyone.

Fifteen months after his son’s murder at a block party with hundreds of people, still nobody’s been arrested, still nobody’s admitted to witnessing anything, still nobody from that group’s come forward to validate his son’s life.

“I just don’t understand,” Charles says. “How does nobody know?”

Jamaa Cassell Charles Billings Beatties Ford Road shooting

The bottle Jamaa brought home for Charles on Father’s Day 2020. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

As more and more of those unanswerable questions swirled in Charlotte again this week, I thought about Charles and several other parents of murder victims I’ve talked to recently, several of whom have become close.

  • Moms like Vivian Carr, who just celebrated her grandson Justin’s first day of school, nearly 5 years after her son Justin (and little Justin’s father) was killed in front of the Omni Hotel.
  • Or dads like Charles, who’ll never open the bottle of whiskey his son bought him on Father’s Day.
  • Or parents like Sylvia and Michael Smith, whom our Katie Peralta Soloff has gotten to know. They recently held a charity motorcycle ride to raise money for a Johnson C. Smith scholarship in honor of their son, Sam, whose killer remains free somewhere.
  • Or brothers like British Deese, who plants sunflowers each year and passes them out for other people to plant elsewhere, to keep his sister Chynna’s memory alive.

Each a death of unique circumstances, all bound by a few things: They were sudden, they were unexpected, and they leave ripples that last way beyond the news cycle.

Young Asiah was supposed to turn 4 this coming December, his great-grandmother told WBTV.

And Allnütt, the young art teacher who escaped a hurricane, had just posted on social media of her temporary home in NoDa, “I am beyond fortunate to have had a friend to evacuate with and their community accept us with open arms and hearts.”

Open arms and hearts.

More of that, is all we’re asking.

“Y’all get tired of me saying it,” Vivian Carr said on her Instagram, “but we gotta love more.”

Vivian Carr, Justin Carr's mother, releases a latern on the anniversary of Keith Scott's killing, September 20, 2017

Vivian Carr, Justin Carr’s mother, releases a latern on the anniversary of Keith Scott’s killing, September 20, 2017 Photo: Logan Cyrus

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