‘Senselessly murdered’: 3-year-old’s death linked to disputes among teens, Charlotte police say

By Michael Gordon, Jonathan Limehouse, Joe Marusak and Mark Price

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A 3-year-old boy was killed and his 4-year-old sister injured during a horrifying midnight attack Tuesday in which shooters unleashed a barrage of 150 bullets into a family’s home in northwest Charlotte.

Asiah Figueroa was asleep when he was fatally shot, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said. Eleven people were in the home at the time.

According to police, the child’s death, the fatal shooting Sunday of a teenager and several recent gunshot attacks on Charlotte homes are all believed to be related to disputes among students at Hopewell, North Mecklenburg and Chambers high schools.

Asiah’s murder drew expressions of anger and frustration from city leaders, and CMPD pleaded with the community — especially parents and students at the three schools — for help in finding the child’s killers.

“Parents of kids at these high schools, what we need from you is we need you to be as outraged as we are about this,” police Capt. Joel McNelly said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “This is where your kids go to school, these are the people that your kids are around, and we need your help.

“You should know whether or not your children were at home the last few nights. If your children were not at home the last few nights, overnight, we need to know that.”

McNelly also urged parents to pore through their children’s rooms, their phones and their social media pages for clues.

“We need that to solve the murder of 3-year-old Asiah,” he said.

The shooting that led to the toddler’s death erupted at around 11:45 p.m. in the 2400 block of Richard Rozzelle Drive, a line of single-family homes southwest of Rozzelles Ferry Road and N.C. 16.

Videos from neighbors’ security cameras show multiple cars pulling up in front of a house, then pummeling the residence with dozens of bullets before slowly driving off.

Family members say Asiah was shot in the head. Police said the child later was pronounced dead at Atrium Health.

Susie Whitley, the victim’s great-grandmother, told WBTV that she knew her home was under attack when she heard gunshots hitting her front door. She said her granddaughter began screaming that Asiah had been shot and that she was trying to call 911.

“When I went into his room, my grandson was in there, was holding him, and he said, ‘Grandma, I think he’s gone.’ I didn’t want to believe it.”

Asiah’s 4-year-old sister was grazed by a bullet but will recover, police Chief Johnny Jennings said at the news conference.

“For the rest of her life, she has to realize that she was in the house when her 3-year-old brother was senselessly murdered and taken away from this earth.”

Appearing at the same event, Mayor Vi Lyles said Asiah lost his life “because we can’t figure out how to live together.”

“If we can’t figure this out for a 3-year-old, for whom will we do this for?” she asked.

Investigators say the shooters remain at large.

Neighbors say the fusillade lasted up to a minute. One neighbor described a harrowing scene of a screaming woman running from the home with a child’s body in her arms.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god,'“ said the neighbor, who asked not to be named over fear of retaliation.

Neighbor Bridget Barker told the Charlotte Observer that she “hit the floor” when she heard gun shots ring off across the street.

“I heard them get out the car and start shooting, and they got back in the car and they rolled down the street and shot some more down here,” she said.

Barker said as many as 150 bullet shells littered the street and property around the family’s home.

Other neighbors described the night’s event only if they were not named. One man said he captured the attack on his doorbell camera and turned the video over to police. He said his neighborhood is normally so quiet, “you can hear conversations down the street.”

“We’re trying to help however we can to get (the shooters) caught and get some justice for the little boy,” he said.

Two other residents said their homes were hit by gunshots. One said a bullet flew through the kitchen and landed in the leftover macaroni from a Labor Day cookout.

Another said the shooting was the third she’s lived through in the past two years.

“It was like, ‘Here we go again,'“ she said. “I don’t know, it’s just like you’re not safe anywhere nowadays.”

The neighborhood where Asiah was killed is mostly quiet.

An Observer analysis of CMPD data shows that since 2017, police have responded to 17 violent crimes within a mile of Richard Rozzelle Drive. There have been 10 aggravated assaults, four sexual assaults, two robberies and one arson. Only one — an aggravated assault — happened this year.

Compare that with the center of uptown, where more than 1,100 violent crimes happened within a mile of the Charlotte Transportation Center since 2017.

Barker and other neighbors described Asiah as a playful toddler who romped in his front yard with his sister and would often ask them for treats.

“He would be like ‘Mrs. Bridget, do you have any snacks?’“ she said. “I’m gonna miss that.”

Barker described the boy’s family as “real good people.”

“They don’t bother anybody,” she said.

Another resident said Asiah was a frequent visitor to her porch where he either played or asked her for specific kinds of snacks.

“Just standing here (on the porch) is heartbreaking,” she said.

Asiah’s death is the latest of up to six shootings connected to violence at Hopewell, North Meck and Chambers high schools, police said. On Sunday, 16-year-old Jaylen Xavier Foster was fatally shot in the 9700 block of Trinity Road, CMPD said. Police have charged a 14-year-old with his death. Two other teens were wounded.

“We believe that these tragic events stemmed from some simple disputes,” McNelly said. “What started out as teenage dispute games has turned into a deadly game that’s now taken two lives.”

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(Charlotte Observer staff writer Gavin Off contributed to this report.)


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