RALEIGH — Tina Davis was at UNC-Chapel Hill Hospitals on the Fourth of July, caring for her 6-year-old son, Khalil Wright, as he battled an infection after a bone-marrow transplant.
Her cellphone rang. The caller told Davis that her oldest son, Tahje Alexander Mials, a rising 11th-grader at Millbrook High School, had been stabbed in downtown Raleigh.
Tahje, 16, died at WakeMed after doctors failed to revive him.
Police charged Jerome Lee Gardner, 20, of Raleigh with murder.
Davis is a single mother of six children struggling to pay Tahjes funeral expenses. The service was postponed until Saturday to give the family time to raise enough money to cover the expenses.
I went so long without asking for help, but now I am overwhelmed, Davis said. I cant do it by myself.
It was tough before Tahjes death. While trying to meet the needs of a child battling a serious disease, Davis has lost her job, car and home. The sacrifices also include spending less time spent with her other children; Sincere Wright, 12; Tylah Wright, 10; Timothy Highsmith Jr., 2; and Leeya Highsmith, who is 11 months old.
Davis has been living with her children at the Ronald McDonald House since January, after Khalil, who has sickle cell anemia, received a bone marrow transplant in January. Khalil has had several setbacks since the transplant, including the infection that attacked his body the night his brother was killed.
Khalil still doesnt know what happened, Davis said. Im scared to tell him.
Before his arrest on first-degree murder charges, Jerome Gardners sole encounter with the law was a 2011 conviction for felony breaking and entering in Wake County. State records show that he was sentenced to one year of probation and community service. He was also ordered to earn a high school diploma.
The police investigation of the stabbing is ongoing. Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue on Thursday said it appeared a group of people were fighting and that it could lead to peripheral charges, but he declined to say what sparked the crowd fisticuffs.
The primary suspect has been charged, Sughrue said.
A fireworks display that lit up the sky Friday night had ended, but the streets were still crowded when someone called 911 just after 11:15 p.m. to report a stabbing near the intersection of Wilmington and Cabarrus streets.
A fight broke out, the caller told an emergency dispatcher. I have no idea what it was about.
This is what Tina Davis learned after her son died:
Earlier that day Tahje asked his dad whether he could go downtown for the holiday celebration. His father told him no. Toward the days end, Tahjes dad relented and drove his son into downtown, Just to watch the fireworks.
Davis said her son did not belong to any gangs or cliques, but he was friends with a group of youngsters who lived in an apartment complex off New Hope Church Road in North Raleigh.
Davis learned her son was with the group the night he was stabbed. After Tahje died, some of the youngsters told Davis they were not a gang, just a bunch of people who live in the 4900 block of Peeble Beach Drive. The young people told Davis that her son was not part of the 49, but that they were all friends and classmates at Millbrook High.
The night Tahje was stabbed, he was with the group and hollering out the name, 49.
A fight broke out, Davis said. Tahje jumped in it. It wasnt even his fight. They told me, he was just fighting with us. Thats the part that makes us so angry. It wasnt even his fight.
Davis said after her son was stabbed he turned to one of his friends and said, They stabbed me, before he collapsed. Davis said Tahjes so-called friends who were fighting with him fled the scene. Several girls and the friend Tahje spoke to stayed with him. The friend took off his shirt and placed it over Tahjes chest.
I dont know who hit who first, Davis said. But how do you just take a knife and just stab someone?
Davis raced from Khalils bedside at UNC hospital with the hazard lights flashing on her speeding car. She prayed, God please let it be just a cut. But she was met at WakeMed by a chaplain and nurse.
A doctor told her Tahje was in critical condition.
Soon after a doctor came out and told Davis, Were sorry; we couldnt save your son.
Davis said Tahje was creative, designed his own clothes, loved technology and wanted to be an engineer.
The teen grew up in the church. He was baptized at the age of 8 and was a member of his churchs usher board and youth choir.
Davis has received well over 350 Facebook friend requests since Tahjes death from people who knew him.
Davis has read news accounts where Gardners friends claimed he was acting in self-defense. The distraught mother said she is praying for her sons accused killer to do the right thing.
All these kids, she said. We got their attention. Now how are we going to keep it?
News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.