Months before Kendrick Keyanti Gregory was accused of killing a pawn-shop owner, sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl and robbing and shooting a man at a hotel, he tried to commit suicide and was admitted into two hospitals for mental health treatment.
“He needed a lot of help, and no one really tried to help him,” his mother Alicia Gregory said early Friday evening.
Gregory, 21, is now in jail in New York City where police say he was arrested Tuesday in a stolen SUV. He is fighting extradition back to North Carolina to face charges of robbery, rape and first-degree murder.
Police say he shot and robbed a man outside a hotel off New Bern Avenue on Monday morning, shot and killed Thomas Durand, 64, that evening at his Mr. Pawn business off Capital Boulevard, then raped the girl before fleeing town in a stolen car.
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Alicia Gregory said her son has been mentally ill since 2011. She said he was admitted to Duke University Medical Center in Durham at the beginning of the summer and then transferred to Holly Hill in Raleigh. The mother said a doctor at Duke said her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Kendrick Gregory was hearing voices. The doctor, Alicia Gregory said, also described other symptoms that sounded similar to the experiences of Kendrick Gregory’s grandmother, who also suffered from mental illness.
“I told her about my mother who had the same symptoms but was never diagnosed,” Alicia Gregory said.
Alicia Gregory said she asked the doctor to keep her son in the hospital, and the doctor prescribed medication for her son’s illness.
“I told her to leave him in there bcause he has no place to go. I told her he’s had a hard time, and he’s not in control of his mind,” Alicia Gregory said. “She told me, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll treat him.’ But a few days after that, they released him.”
‘Pray for me’
Alicia Gregory said Kendrick was transferred to Holly Hill where he was doing pretty well. Mother and son talked over the phone nearly every day. One day Kendrick Gregory called to say he was being released.
“I asked him, ‘Why are they letting you out?’” she said. “He said, ‘I don’t know. They just told me I had to leave today.’”
At one point in May, Gregory reached out to a stranger at a fast food restaurant and asked her to pray for him.
Aaliyah Blaylock, a Raleigh historian, was eating at a McDonald’s near the intersection of Capital Boulevard and Calvary Drive two months ago when she saw Gregory sitting nearby.
“When I was heading out, he stopped me and said, ‘Ma’m, can you pray for me?’” she said.
Blaylock, who volunteers with JusticeServedNC, a statewide non-profit that mentors young people in county jails, asked Gregory why he needed her to pray for him.
“He said he couldn’t control his body,” Blaylock said this week. “He couldn’t stop his tongue from sticking out, and his neck would just go back and kept throwing his chin up and his head back. He said when he walked he felt like his legs were going into the ground.”
Blaylock asked the young man where his parents were and if he wanted her to take him to the hospital.
“We prayed, and I asked him if he believed in Christ,” Blaylock said. “He said, ‘Yes.’”
Blaylock walked out of the restaurant and got into her car but didn’t immediately leave.
“Before I left I just sat in the car,” she said. “He came out and was standing at a bus stop. I said to myself, ‘Let me see if he’s playing or not.’ There he was, with his head thrown back and his tongue hanging out of his mouth.”
Blaylock recognized Gregory’s police mug shot, with his eyes appearing to pop out, in local newscasts Tuesday when police described him as a deadly criminal who should be considered extremely dangerous.
She recognized Gregory again in a photo Wednesday when he was flanked by two police officers in Brooklyn. His tongue was poking out as if he was taunting the cameras instead of wrestling with mental illness.
“I hope they don’t think he was doing a Miley Cyrus,” Blaylock said.
Alicia Gregory said she had to put her son out of her Wake Forest home in 2010 to go live with his father in Greenville after he started carrying a knife, would not take showers for days at a time and stopped combing his hair.
“He didn’t care about his appearance. He just gave up,” said Alicia Gregory, who added that before the onset of mental illness her son was very religious and read the entire Bible. “Then started talking about the devil and drew horns on his head.”
‘A popular kid’
She said her son used to be a popular kid, a bit of a class cut-up. While in the fifth grade, he was among a group of bright young students at Stough Elementary who were big fans of the TV game show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.” Gregory and his classmates greeted the show’s host, comedian Jeff Foxworthy, when he visited Raleigh in 2007.
Alicia Gregory said that by the time she sent her son to live with his father, his siblings were afraid of him. Police would show up at the home to intervene in fights he had with his 22-year-old brother, he assaulted his younger brother, now 13, and routinely screamed at his sister, who is 17.
“I would go into his room, and he would be sitting there talking with someone. But no one was in there with him, and he didn’t have on headphones,” she said. “I’d ask him, ‘Wait a minute, who are you talking to?’ He wouldn’t say anything.”
Alicia Gregory said she put her son out after she confronted him for stealing money from her wallet and she called the police after he spit on her and tried to fight her.
“I told him, ‘You can’t stay with me no more. I couldn’t let him stay here,” she said. “He kept a knife. I was scared of him.”
Alicia Gregory said her son lived with his father until the father kicked him out after an altercation with his wife. He then stayed with friends in the Mini City area where Durand was shot to death, but they also asked him to leave “because he was having problems,” his mother said.
“After he left he called me up and told me he wanted to come over and have sex with me,” Alicia Gregory said. “I asked him, ‘Why would you say that to me?’”
Time in jail
Raleigh police arrested Kendrick Gregory on Aug. 1 and charged him with breaking into cars and larceny the day before. They added similar charges the next day involving incidents on July 27 and 28.
The charges against Gregory were consolidated last month in Wake County District Court. As part of a plea deal, Gregory agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of breaking and entering a motor vehicle, and the felony larceny charges were dismissed, according to records filed Tuesday at the Wake County Clerk of Courts Office.
An active sentence of 6 to 17 months in prison was suspended. Wake District Court Judge Jacqueline Brewer sentenced Gregory to 18 months of supervised probation. Brewer also gave Gregory credit for 23 days he spent in jail awaiting his court hearing.
Capt. James Stevens, a spokesman with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, said Gregory was placed in 24-hour lockdown for one day after detention officers found that he was trading and bartering with other inmates. Stevens, citing medical confidentiality, declined to say if Gregory received a mental evaluation when he was admitted to the jail. He also declined to say if mental evaluations are a standard procedure when the detention center admits new inmates.
Regrets and sorrow
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said after a grand jury returns indictments against Gregory this month, she will petition Gov. Pat McCrory to ask New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue a governor’s warrant to return Gregory to North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Alicia Gregory and Aaliyah Blaylock are both wondering if they could have done more to help Kendrick Gregory.
“I really feel bad about what happened with Mr. Durand. He seemed to be loved by many in the community,” Blaylock said. “But Kendrick is still living, and like many, he has fallen through the cracks. A part of me feels responsible. I think I could have done more for him that day.”
His mother, too, said she feels bad.
“I didn’t get him the help he needed,” she said.