Suspect in killing had military plan

Mother stunned by events

Staff WriterAugust 14, 2010 

— Roger Onaje McKenzie will turn 24 next week. He was working as a bagger at a Food Lion and planned to begin the process of enlisting in the Air Force Reserve during his birthday week.

"He had planned on taking the test," his mother Rogerine Stewart said. "He had made up his mind he was going to do it."

Instead, McKenzie is under suicide watch at Central Prison in Raleigh, charged with first-degree murder after police say he walked into a downtown barbershop Monday and shot a man to death.

The owner of Total Styles & Cuts picked McKenzie out of a photo lineup and told police that he shot James Edward Hamer, the father of a 5-year-old girl, as he sat in a barber's chair.

No known motive

Stewart described the shooting as "out-of-character" for her son. For Stewart, Hamer's family and the police, the big question in the aftermath of the shooting is, "Why?" Police are not sure Hamer and McKenzie even knew each other and have not yet disclosed why a meeting between the two men ended with gunfire.

Cathy Wilkins, Hamer's sister, said her brother had stopped by her house Monday morning to check on his daughter, then rode over to his brother-in-law Jeremy Wilkins' barbershop at 203 E. Cabarrus St. for a haircut.

Wilkins, 38, of Raleigh said her husband was getting ready to cut her brother's hair when McKenzie, a regular customer, came into the shop. She said her husband talked for a bit with McKenzie, then went into the back for a moment. He told his wife that when he returned, McKenzie had a gun in his hand and a blank look on his face.

Wilkins said her husband told her that McKenzie started shooting. Jeremy Wilkins, his barber's apron soaked with his brother-in-law's blood, was hysterical when he called 911.

When police arrived just after 9:15 a.m., Hamer was dead.

McKenzie does not have a criminal record and preferred working while waiting to take the Air Force test.

"He worked all hours," said Angel McGee, who manages the Food Lion in Mini City where McKenzie worked. "I was shocked," he said of the shooting.

Bullets in the car

Police think McKenzie drove to the barbershop in a blue, 1981 Oldsmobile Delta 88, which was found across the street in a gravel lot. Police searched the car and found a .38-caliber casing, nine loose .38-caliber bullets and a box of more .38-caliber bullets, according to a search warrant application made public Thursday.

Within hours of the shooting, police searched the home McKenzie shares with his mother near Raleigh Boulevard. There they found a .38-caliber revolver, with three live bullets and two spent casings in the cylinder, according to the warrant application.

"I knew something had to be wrong. He didn't talk to me about a lot of things," Stewart said about her son. "My heart goes out to the other boy's mother and his family."

Police seized McKenzie's Nike shoes from the property bin at the Wake County jail after his arrest. Raleigh police detective J.A. Hodge stated in the court affidavit that because of the "severity of this murder," investigators thought the shoes would have evidence of the shooting on them.

News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.

thomasi.mcdonald@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4533

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