‘All she do is cry.’ Life changed for family after shooting of 9-year-old Z’yon Person

Z’yon Person’s grandparents speak out about his death

Gary and Sandra Person, the grandparents of Z'yon Person, speak out about losing their grandson in a "senseless" shooting. The nine year old was killed in a drive-by shooting in Durham, NC on Aug. 18, 2019.
Up Next
Gary and Sandra Person, the grandparents of Z'yon Person, speak out about losing their grandson in a "senseless" shooting. The nine year old was killed in a drive-by shooting in Durham, NC on Aug. 18, 2019.

His sister is angry. His cousin won’t eat. Another can’t stop crying.

After 9-year-old Z’yon Person was fatally shot on a ride for snow cones last weekend, his four cousins and sister in the SUV with him are not the same, said their grandmother.

Z’yon’s 8-year-old cousin was shot in the arm.

He used to be a joker, always smiling and “eating up everything,” said his maternal grandmother Sandra Person.

“This week, after he got shot, all he want to do is sleep. He don’t even want to eat,” said Person, 55, of Durham. “He’s not the same person.”

Z’yon’s 9-year-old cousin, who was in her mother’s Ford Escape when the shots rang out, “all she do is cry,” Person said.

And his 11-year-old sister has been lashing out.

“They were sitting side by side,” Person said. “When Z’yon got shot, he fell right in his sister’s lap.”

Z’yon’s aunt, Daynell Ragland, was driving the car and her youngest, a 3-year-old, was also in the car.

The News & Observer’s media partner, ABC11, reported that Ragland was taking the kids to Pelican’s SnowBalls when someone in a burgundy Honda Accord fired shots into the car.

Ragland told ABC11 that she was trying to turn when she heard a horn and then gunshots

“I don’t know what to do. They took my nephew,” she told ABC11. “My nephew is like my son. I don’t understand.”

Z’yon was shot in the head and died Monday.

Various events are scheduled to honor Z’yon across the Triangle, including a 1 p.m. Saturday march from Durham City Hall to Durham police headquarters.

On Sunday Durham Youth Football United will hold a rally and march at 3 p.m. from the YMCA in downtown Durham to CCB Plaza.

Fred Evans, director of youth football team Bull City Bulldogs, said the Sunday event will give the kids, including youth football teams from across Durham, a chance to speak out.

Z’yon’s funeral will be held Tuesday in Raleigh..

A GoFundMe memorial fund campaign to help the family pay for funeral ( and other expenses has raised more than $8,000.

Now the family has only photographs and memories when they break down in tears.

“It’s just so hard,” Person said.

‘Helpful little man’

Z’yon, a rising fourth-grader at Penny Road Elementary School in Cary, was “a helpful little man,” Person said.

“Grandma, you do the dishes and I’ll take the trash out,” he would say, she said. “He’s just that kind of kid. All the teachers love him because he is so lovable.”

Z’yon loved to play video games and basketball, but lately football had won his heart, his grandmother said.

“He could not miss a practice,” she said. “He would want to hang out there even when practice was over talking to the coach.”

Z’yon was typically a running back on the Capital City Steelers Mitey Mite Gold youth football team, but the day before he was shot, he learned he would play quarterback in a game.

“It was a surprise,” Person said. “He was so excited.”

His grandmother said he probably did this dance he used to always do when he got excited, like the dab with some shoulder dancing.

“Oh my God, my baby,” she said, as she remembered.

Rambo in her dreams

Person is worried for her daughter, Z’yon’s mother.

She thinks about her running errands without her son offering to help with the groceries, take out the trash and carry the laundry.

“My daughter is strong, but it’s just a lot,” Person said. “She is OK, but she is not good and I know that.”

Person has tried to be strong for her seven children and 13 grandchildren, but she broke down Thursday morning. She had fallen asleep in a living-room chair and woke up and saw a picture of Z’yon at 3 weeks old.

“I looked up, and I just lost it,” she said.

Person and her husband, Gary, said the violence needs to stop.

Mothers are scared to take their children outside or to the park. People are shot every other day, if not every day.

The couple wants to see killers punished.

Anyone who kills someone “give them double digits,” in prison, Sandra Person said. And people who kill children, “give them triple digits.”

Sandra Person said the kids aren’t the only one who have changed since the shooting. While she tries to stay calm, in her dreams she is angry.

“I am Rambo,” taking people out, she said. “That’s not me.”

Gary Person broke down for the first time in an interview Friday morning. He said he wants people to see his pain.

“The people that did this senseless act, you just don’t know the pain that you have put upon us,” he said after collecting himself. “I hope nobody else has to go through something like this again.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.