Durham News

Witnesses say slain Durham teen was not intended target

Outside the Two Brothers Convenience Store in North Durham, glass workers Eugene McGill, left, and Tyler Wimbush repair damage Friday after unknown people on Monday shot a 16-year-old to death.
Outside the Two Brothers Convenience Store in North Durham, glass workers Eugene McGill, left, and Tyler Wimbush repair damage Friday after unknown people on Monday shot a 16-year-old to death. hlynch@newsobserver.com

A 16-year-old high school student who was fatally shot in front of a North Durham convenience store Monday was not the intended target, according to store customers and the manager.

They say the shooters, who fired more than a half dozen bullets that shattered a glass door, chipped a wooden column and left holes in the building’s thin walls, were gunning for a man standing next to Delonta Hart, a ninth-grader at Northern High School.

“They hit the wrong person,” said Shawki Salah, who was working the counter of Two Brothers Convenience Store, a neighborhood market at 3310 Dearborn Drive. He thinks the target was a man he believes others have a grudge against. “He has a burn on his face and goes by three diferent names: Scarface, ’Face and Mark.”

Delonta had missed the bus to school that morning, and his mother, Lametria Hart, decided to let him stay home that day.

“I wish I had sent him to school now,” she said Friday, crying softly.

Lametria Hart lives about a five-minute walk from Two Brothers Store and was cooking when Delonta decided to walk there. She said she made him a sandwich, and he walked out the door.

“It was time for school to get out, and he was going to wait for his friends to get off the school bus,” Lametria Hart said. “He was an outgoing type kid. Athletic. Humble. Just an average teenager. He wasn’t a troublemaker or nothing like that.

“He wasn’t a gang member. If he was, I would tell you. He was free to walk where he wanted to walk.”

Lametria Hart was also told that her son was standing outside the convenience store with a man with a burned face that she and her son knew casually. Witnesses said either a gray car with tinted windows or a dark blue van pulled in the front of the store, and someone inside the vehicle started firing.

“I heard they were trying to shoot him and shot my son,” she said. “My son is dead because he talked to someone he knew. He was always talking to him.”

Salah, who has worked at Two Brothers since 2009, said there were six customers in the store when the shooting started. Several of them ran behind the counter when gunshots struck a light and pierced the upper pane of one of the store’s glass doors. At least eight gunshots punched holes in the wall behind the store counter, whizzed past Salah’s head and punctured a box of Alka Seltzers, while another gunshot hit a North Carolina lottery display.

Possible target left scene

Customers this week were still buying scratch-off tickets that had bullet holes in them.

After the shooting ended, Salah ran outside. To the left of the door, Delonta lay face down, with a gunshot wound in the head. Two or three seconds later, Salah said the man known as Scarface ran from behind the store and asked for napkins.

“I gave him a roll,” Salah said. “He put the napkins on the little boy’s face and his head.”

Salah said “Scarface” left before police arrived.

“If the police get him, they will get a lot of information,” Salah said about the man he thinks was the intended target of the shooting.

“He came over here the next day, and I kicked him out,” Salah said. “I told him I almost got killed, and six people, too.”

Delonta Hart’s aunt, Judy Hart, said she too, heard that a man with a burned face and dreadlocks, whom she knows as Mark, was standing beside her nephew when he was shot.

“The guys were probably aiming at him,” Judy Hart said. “Mark has been trying to put his life back together and get out of the gang.”

Emergency workers transported Delonta to the hospital, where he died the following day.

Police this week taped a flier with a picture of the smiling teenager on one of the front doors of the store. The flier describes the shooting and offers a CrimeStoppers reward for information leading to an arrest.

Two weakly burning candles in front of a section of chain link fence nearly covered by a Newport cigarettes poster marked the spot where Delonta was shot.

‘A caring kid’

“He used to get a lot of snacks. He loved snacks,” Salah said. “That kid, he really didn’t bother anybody.”

Family members said the same thing: Delonta Hart could be “mischievous,” but he was a typical teenager, who loved sports, music and having fun.

“Delonta was cool people. I’m going to keep it 100, he (wasn’t) gang affiliated,” said his cousin, Antonio Hart, 20, who lives in the neighborhood. “I don’t want to paint a picture that he was bad because of where he got shot.”

In 2010, Marko D. Thornton, 21, of Butner, was shot to death in the Two Brothers parking lot. Officers found Thornton inside a car with a gunshot wound. Thornton died later at Duke University Medical Center.

Carlton Watson, a teacher’s assistant at Lakeview Secondary School, said when Delonta was in middle school he enrolled for a short time at Lakeview, an alternative school for students with behavioral issues.

Lakeview is a two-minute walk down Dearborn Drive from Two Brothers, and on the day Delonta was shot, police ordered the school to be placed on lockdown.

“A lot of people here at the school remember him. It’s very sad,” Watson said. “He was a kid who would come and ask teachers for academic help. He was a caring kid, a kid that did not deserve to be slaughtered on the streets.”

Protective big brother

Watson said Delonta was known by many students at Lakeview. After the shooting, they told Watson that Delonta “wasn’t about that life.”

“That means carrying a gun and not being afraid to use it,” Watson said. “Some of these kids will shoot you in a minute. Some kids are not ready to go that far. Delonta was just like any other kid trying to have fun. He died violently, but he wasn’t a violent kid.”

Delonta Hart was the oldest of three children. He has a brother, 10, and sister, 14, that he was very protective of, his aunt Judy said.

“It’s real hard,” she said about his death. “He was so delightful. He always cared about what was going on with older people.”

Judy Hart said the shopkeepers at Two Brothers knew Delonta was a good kid and would call his mother if he got off the bus at school and hung around neighborhood troublemakers.

“They didn’t want him hanging out with bad people at the store,” she said.

Lametria Hart said a funeral for her son will be held Monday at noon at Bell Yeager Freewill Baptist Church at 128 E. Cornwalis Road. He turned 16 on Oct. 20.

“He had a life ahead of him,” she said. “He couldn’t wait to turn 16. He had been waiting all his life to turn 16.”

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