Durham man posted troubling Facebook message before being shot by police

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comSeptember 19, 2013 

Derek Deandre Walker posted what was tantamount to a suicide note on his Facebook page Tuesday before aiming a handgun at police who fatally shot him after an hourlong standoff in a small downtown plaza.

In his Facebook post, Walker said he was ready to die because of a five-year custody dispute with the mother of his son.

“If there is really a true and living God and Jesus he wouldn’t put me through this … all I know is that I am a DEAD MAN WALKING,” Walker, 26, stated in the Facebook post. “I’m done … don’t call me and don’t talk to me because I am not responding. I hope I die very soon and a fast death because this world I am living in is sorry …”

“I’m not gonna make it,” Walker sent from his mobile phone to Facebook before his last posting. “#SoSicknTiredof BeingSicknTired2.”

Walker worked for the past five years with Hanes Funeral Service in East Durham. He briefly studied mortuary science in Georgia and Fayetteville before returning to Durham to care for his ailing mother.

Bishop Franklin Hanes, director of the funeral home, said Walker was very devoted to his mother.

“They would have date night every Friday night,” Hanes said. “Now I don’t know who’s going to take care of her.”

In the pre-dawn hours before the shooting, Walker called Hanes and told him, while sobbing, that he was about to die.

“He told me what he wanted to be dressed in,” Hanes said Wednesday. “He told me he wanted to wear his black funeral suit and a new purple tie. He said, ‘You need to put that on me.’ He was crying real hard. I tried to talk to him, but he hung up on me.”

Hanes drove to Walker’s apartment on Elizabeth Street near downtown but could not find him. Later that day, Walker’s mother called and told him Walker was “downtown with a gun.” Hanes drove to the police precinct a short distance from the standoff. Hanes and Walker’s mother had to complete paperwork before the police cleared them to go to the scene.

“Before we left, they came in and said they had already shot him,” Hanes said. “We drove to the hospital, but by the time we got there he was already dead.”

The shooting

Durham police Cpl. R.C. Swartz, a 12-year veteran of the force and a member of the department’s Special Operations Unit, was among the officers who arrived in the plaza between North Corcoran and Market streets Tuesday afternoon in response to reports of a distraught, armed man.

Workers were kept in nearby buildings or taken out side doors. Police armed with rifles took up positions around the area.

Hostage negotiators talked to Walker, who reportedly waved the handgun around and held it to his head.

Swartz fired when Walker raised the gun toward an officer, police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said. It was not clear Tuesday night whether Walker pointed the gun toward Swartz or another officer, Michael said.

The custody battle

Hanes said when he last talked with Walker, he didn’t say why he was so upset. Nor have police said what prompted Walker to go downtown armed with a pistol. The anguished note he posted on Facebook indicated that he was upset with Latasha M. Alston, the mother of his elementary school-age son, and what he described as a five-year custody battle.

State records show that Walker and Alston had been involved in custody and child support issues since 2008. The latest came Sept. 9 at the Durham County Justice Center, where Alston filed for full custody of their son.

Walker was involved in his son’s life. Recent Facebook pictures show the two attending a Durham Bulls game, hanging out at the beach and working in a garden at the boy’s school.

The presiding judge did not immediately issue a ruling after hearing the case, court records show.

Alston could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

‘He needed to see me’

Some people questioned the use of deadly force by police. Anita Keith-Foust, a Durham writer and activist, sent a letter to Mayor Bill Bell shortly after the shooting asking why police couldn’t use tranquilizers or rubber bullets instead of the lethal ones.

“Why weren’t his loved ones allowed to come and talk to him?” Keith-Foust asked.

Bell responded by describing the shooting as a tragedy. The mayor stated that he was awaiting the outcome of the State Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the incident, standard procedure for all shootings involving police.

Tim Walter, 50, a Durham photographer, said he thought police showed considerable restraint before firing the fatal gunshot.

Walter said Walker waved a handgun around and pointed it toward police several times.

“He was careful not to raise it to eye level, but certainly waist-level,” Walter said. “He held the gun to his own head several times.”

Walter said Walker eventually motioned higher, with the handgun pointed at police. A single gunshot rang out, and Walker went down.

The unhappy ending crushed the police negotiator, who was consoled by two fellow officers.

Hanes thinks if he had gotten to the scene earlier, Walker would still be alive.

“He needed to see me,” Hanes said. “Down there just crying and hollering. He really needed to see me.”

News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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