Mother of slain Durham teen wants justice in unsolved murder

In November, neighbors found Zykari Rhone dead at the corner of Dowd and Hazel streets just north of downtown Durham. He had been shot six times in the head and chest.

Shatocka Carlton said she spoke to her 18-year-old son shortly before the shooting, telling him over the phone, “Don’t be hanging out late.”

“I ain’t,” she recalled hearing back. “I’m going in, Mom.”

Not long afterward, Carlton’s mother called her in Charlotte, delivering grim news. “It’s your boy.”

The corner of Dowd and Hazel streets north of downtown Durham, where Zykari Rhone, 18, was shot in November, 2018. No arrests have been made.

Rhone’s death was one of 32 homicides in Durham in 2018, one that got only a few sentences of mention in local news. Carlton said a police detective met with her shortly after the shooting but they soon switched to talking by text messages. After eight months, police have made no arrests, and Carlton believes her boy has been forgotten.

“That’s how I feel, like they swept it under the carpet,” she said. “Another little black boy dead.”

Durham police spokesman Wil Glenn did not return two calls seeking information about the case or about unsolved Durham homicides in general.

In the first three months of 2019, the city saw 12 homicides — twice the number from the same period in 2018. Of those 12 slayings, police have charged eight people in connection with nine cases, with the victims ranging in age from 20 months to 46 years old.

But officers in Durham have blamed not making more arrests on a culture of “no snitching” for at least a decade, according to the N&O archives. In many cities, cooperating with police violates a street code punishable by death. Carlton thinks this may factor in her son’s case. She said she has read Facebook comments about his shooting, and she knows of a witness who would come forward if he knew his family would be protected.

“I’m different, I guess,” Carlton said. “I would go tell A to Z, ‘this is what it was.’”

Rhone had no criminal record. He lived with his grandmother and did not belong to a gang, his mother said, but he knew people who did and was likely pressured to join. He smoked marijuana but “didn’t bother anybody,” his mother said.

Zykari Rhone played drums in his high school marching band and enjoyed horseback riding before his shooting death in November, 2018. He had no criminal record and did not belong to a gang, his mother said, though he knew gang members.

When he was younger, he played drums in his Hillside High School marching band, rode dirt bikes and skateboards and — after a summer camp — got interested in horseback riding. He volunteered on a farm and rescued abandoned animals.

“He was crazy over the horses,” Carlton said.

She said she only wants her son’s killer pursued with vigor, and she isn’t the first to feel frustrated by lack of information or progress.

In March, the family of DeAndre Ballard told the N&O they felt frustrated by officials investigating the case of the N.C. Central University senior fatally shot by a security guard in 2018 — a case ruled self-defense by the agency that employed the guard.

“It is going on six months,” Ballard’s mother, Ernisha Ballard, said at the time. “No investigation has been complete or anything, so I don’t understand what is the hold-up.”

In May, about 10 protesters came to the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Raleigh to protest Ballard’s shooting and other people killed by law enforcement, saying their questions were going unanswered, especially about the possibility about nonviolent tactics, The N&O previously reported.

Carlton has made several requests for a new investigator, for help for witnesses, for new looks at security camera footage. But as a victim, she hasn’t felt heard.

“I just feel like there’s more that they can do,” she said.

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.