Last year, on August 18, the shooting death of nine-year-old Z’Yon Person shocked the conscience of a city where the murder of Black men and boys by their peers is all too common an occurrence. As the INDY then reported, Z’Yon’s death served as an avatar of all that has gone wrong amid Durham’s growth and prosperity.
This month, the slaughter of the city’s most vulnerable innocents continued, when 10 people, including three children, were shot in a single night. One of the children, 12-year-old Tyvien “Ty” McLean, died from a gunshot wound to the head.
On July 15, police announced two separate shootings in East and South Durham. It was just after 10:30 p.m. when officers arrived at a home in the 200 block of South Benjamin Street and discovered eight people had been shot, including two children ages four and eight.
It was about four hours later, just after 2:30 a.m., when officers responded to reports of gunfire at the Cornwallis Road housing complex in the 3000 block of Weaver Street. The investigators found two people had been wounded by gunfire when someone shot into a housing unit. An unnamed adult survived. Ty died five days later of his injuries.
Z’Yon was one of five kids riding in his aunt’s Ford Escape for a late-night treat of snow cones when someone fired multiple gunshots into the vehicle. He was the quarterback on his championship-winning football team and was set to start fourth grade in the fall.
Ty was attending a birthday party when he was struck by a bullet from warring factions shooting at each other. Those who knew him said he was always the life of the party, a jolly and loving sixth grader at Lowe’s Grove Middle School.
“It pisses me off,” Ty’s godmother, Coretta Saunders, said July 22, during a vigil for the child that was sponsored by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham Wednesday at CCB Plaza.
“If we can’t protect this generation, how are we gonna have one later?” Saunders asked. “Black Lives Matter, but what about Ty’s life? We need to be yelling, ‘Kids’ Lives Matter!’”
Public housing activist Ashley Canady said residents need to stop protecting gun criminals.
“Y’all protecting the shooters more than you’re protecting the kids,” she said. “If [the shooters] are in your house, get them out. Don’t tell Ty’s mom you love her, and the shooters are sitting in your house eating.”
The child’s mother, Tamecia McLean, wore a T-shirt with a picture of her son. She said Ty was “energetic” and “strong like an ox.”
“Everyone who met him was his friend,” she said with a smile. “Ty, you are loved. I am loved. We are loved. You are, excuse my French, a helluva fighter.”
Among the nearly 60 people who attended the vigil was Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton, who lost two sons to gun violence in the 1990s.
“Mom,” Howerton said to Ty’s mother, “I feel your pain, and I am so sorry. This community owes you better than this.”
Howerton told the vigil-goers systemic racism plays a role in creating impoverished communities, where young people resort to gangs and violence without creative outlets and opportunities.
“But we cannot take it out on each other,” she said. “We have to give each other love.”
Police have not yet made an arrest in the shootings that killed Ty, but one day after the child was shot, Durham County sheriff’s deputies searched a home in the 800 block of North Briggs Avenue where residents were suspected of drug and firearms trafficking. The deputies recovered stolen handguns, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and cash.
Deputies charged a 20-year-old man, described in a sheriff’s press release as a validated gang member, and an 18-year-old woman for multiple drug and weapons violations.
The raid occurred less than a mile from South Benjamin Street, where two children were shot the night before.
Police have not released a motive for the shootings that killed Ty, but Durham County Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead pointed to a deadly nexus of gangs, drugs, and guns that fuel much of the city’s violence.
Ty’s vigil ended just before 7:00 p.m., when his friends and family counted to 12 and released helium-filled balloons in the air to honor his memory.
“Rest in peace, Ty!” they said in unison.
One bundle of balloons got tangled in tree branches near Corcoran Square.
“That’s him!” one vigil-goer shouted. “He’s still here!”
The story has been updated to include the first name of Sheriff Birkhead.
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