Griev­ing But­ler stu­dents urged to wrest good from school shoot­ing death

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ANN DOSS HELMS AND JOE MARUSAK [email protected]­lot­teob­ [email protected]­lot­teob­

Hun­dreds packed Pro­gres­sive Bap­tist Church in west Char­lotte on Satur­day to remember 16-year-old Bobby McKei­then III as a warm, fun-lov­ing But­ler High stu­dent whose life shouldn’t have ended in his school hall­way.

McKei­then, a sopho­more at But­ler, was fa­tally shot near the cafe­te­ria of the Matthews school just be­fore classes be­gan Mon­day morn­ing. Jat­wan Cuffie, a 16-year-old But­ler fresh­man, has been charged with first-de­gree mur­der.

“We’re go­ing to use this to cause a pos­i­tive change at But­ler High School. ... We have no choice,” Prin­ci­pal John Le­grand told an over­flow crowd of mourn­ers at McKei­then’s fu­neral. “We’ve got to take a stand ... that this isn’t go­ing to hap­pen any more to young, spe­cial peo­ple like Bobby.”

The brief but deadly scuf­fle be­tween the two stu­dents fol­lowed a fight in a Har­ris Teeter park­ing lot the pre­vi­ous Fri­day night, in which Cuffie was a par­tic­i­pant and McKei­then was a spec­ta­tor, ac­cord­ing to Cuffie’s state­ment to po­lice and video cir­cu­lated by class­mates.

While a fa­tal shoot­ing in­side a school stunned the com­mu­nity, speak­ers re­minded the group that young peo­ple die all too of­ten af­ter con­flicts that could have been re­solved.

Sher­iff-elect and re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer Garry McFad­den said he reg­u­larly speaks to stu­dents about “what to do when you have a beef.” On the day McKei­then was shot, McFad­den said, he spoke at nearby In­de­pen­dence High.

“Ev­ery­body will have con­flict, but what the prob­lem is is when you bring drama,” McFad­den said. “There will al­ways be con­flict, be­cause we are born dif­fer­ently. ... Don’t be the mes­sen­ger of drama.”

Meck­len­burg County Com­mis­sioner Pat Cotham said she has at­tended two fu­ner­als this past week for mur­der vic­tims.

“We’re not in a good place in our so­ci­ety,” she said. She urged ev­ery­one at­tend­ing to love and care for each other, and asked stu­dents to let fac­ulty know if some­one is trou­bled. “What you do, the stu­dents, this is how we’re go­ing to change our world.”

Justin Hill, a cousin of McKei­then, also en­cour­aged young peo­ple to love each other and avert con­flict. No one wants to be la­beled a snitch, he said, but “truth be told, it’s bet­ter to be called a snitch than a life be taken.”


At the same time Satur­day af­ter­noon, 40 peo­ple marched in an up­town Char­lotte protest spurred by the shoot­ing. They chanted ”Not one more, save ’em all” dur­ing a “Stop the Vi­o­lence, Enough is Enough” march that led from Lit­tle Rock AME Zion Church to Mar­shall Park.

“End the vi­o­lence, put the guns down,” par­ent Jas­mine Brown told The Char­lotte Observer be­fore the start of the march. Her 17-year-old son, Daqua­voan Lavar Brown, died Oct. 10 af­ter a teen who was a friend or ac­quain­tance shot him, a case in which no charges have been filed, she said.

“Youth to­day don’t know how to deal with con­flict,” said Gemini Boyd, founder of the non­profit Project Bolt who or­ga­nized the march and rally. “They go from zero to 100 – 100 is the vi­o­lent acts they com­mit­ted.”

Boyd told the Observer he served prison time for as­sault with a deadly weapon, re­lated to a 1990 fa­tal shoot­ing at My­ers Park High com­mit­ted by an­other youth, as well as ad­di­tional time for a sep- arate drug con­spir­acy charge.

His or­ga­ni­za­tion helps peo­ple re­leased from prison get job skills and hous­ing, and is work­ing with a Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Schools coun­selor on a town hall-style meet­ing where stu­dents will take the mi­cro­phone to of­fer so­lu­tions to youth gun vi­o­lence.

“It hurt so much to see that,” Boyd said of the But­ler High shoot­ing. “We’ve got to fig­ure out what to do to pre­vent it.”


At McKei­then’s ser­vice no one made ref­er­ence to the ac­cused shooter. But Mario Black, founder of Mil­lion Youth March, drew ap­plause when he de­cried news re­ports that im­plied that McKei­then was a bully.

“Bobby was not a bully, nor was this his char­ac­ter,” he said. “I chal­lenge the news me­dia to help change the neg­a­tive nar­ra­tive.”

Black said both Le­grand and Matthews po­lice told him they did not know where the bul­ly­ing in­for­ma­tion came from.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Clay­ton Wil­cox cited bul­ly­ing as a pos­si­ble fac­tor in the shoot­ing at two news con­fer­ences that day.

Wil­cox, who did not at­tend McKei­then’s fu­neral, never specif­i­cally ac­cused McKei­then of be­ing a bully and de­clined to an­swer fol­low-up ques­tions about the role of ei­ther stu­dent in bul­ly­ing, cit­ing stu­dent con­fi­den­tial­ity.

McKei­then’s girl­friend, Anna O’Con­nell, gave the most emotional talk, paus­ing sev­eral times to wipe tears as she de­scribed the way McKei­then gave her strength, made her laugh, hugged stu­dents with spe­cial needs and brought her choco­late and Ibuprofin when she had a mi­graine.

When she de­scribed how McKei­then’s dim­ples “stood out so much every- body could see them a mile away,” some peo­ple laughed fondly while one young rel­a­tive was led out wail­ing.

“From this mo­ment on, ev­ery­thing I do is for you,” O’Con­nell said of McKei­then. “I’m not go­ing to give up.”


McKei­then’s death has prompted Char­lot­teMeck­len­burg Schools of­fi­cials to re-ex­am­ine ques­tions about how adults in schools should deal with con­flict be­tween stu­dents and whether the district needs bet­ter meth­ods to screen for guns.

The district in­ter­cepts sev­eral guns in schools every year, but gun­fire is rare and this ap­pears to be the first shoot­ing death in­side a CMS school. Na­tion­ally it was the 22nd school shoot­ing that led to death or in­jury in 2018, ac­cord­ing to an Ed­u­ca­tion Week tally.

“They’re talk­ing about bring­ing in more metal de­tec­tors. They’re talk­ing about bring­ing in more po­lice of­fi­cers,” the Rev. Ter­rance Grooms, pas­tor of Pro­gres­sive Bap­tist Church, said in McKei­then’s eu­logy. “Those things sound good, but let me re­mind you those things won’t work. Our chil­dren, you have the power to make your rooms safe (with) what you bring into the class­room. I’m not talk­ing guns and knives, I’m talk­ing at­ti­tudes and ac­tions. … Only you can bring the peace back into your class­rooms.”

Grooms’ im­pas­sioned eu­logy brought ap­plause and amens. But the mood changed when the words ended and the cof­fin was opened for friends and fam­ily to pay fi­nal re­spects.

Sobs and wails pierced the sanc­tu­ary. Sud­denly it wasn’t about school safety or so­cial ills. This was about one 16-year-old.

McKei­then will be buried Mon­day in New Bern.

DAVID T. FOSTER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­

Ash­ley Mew­born, mother of But­ler High School shoot­ing vic­tim Bobby McKei­then, is hugged out­side Pro­gres­sive Bap­tist Church in west Char­lotte at the fu­neral for her son on Satur­day. McKei­then, a sopho­more at But­ler, was shot near the school cafe­te­ria Mon­day.


Bobby McKei­then, 16, was shot at But­ler High School on Mon­day morn­ing. He died at the hos­pi­tal.

Jat­wan Craig Cuffie

Friends and fam­ily are in­con­solable af­ter the fu­neral for shoot­ing vic­tim Bobby McKei­then on Satur­day. Sobs and wails pierced the sanc­tu­ary at Pro­gres­sive Bap­tist Church as the cof­fin was opened for mourn­ers to pay fi­nal re­spects.

Ash­ley Mew­born, cen­ter, mother of shoot­ing vic­tim Bobby McKei­then, leads the fam­ily pro­ces­sion into Pro­gres­sive Bap­tist Church for the ser­vice. McKei­then will be buried Mon­day in New Bern.

PHO­TOS BY DAVID T. FOSTER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­

Pall­bear­ers carry the cof­fin of But­ler High shoot­ing vic­tim Bobby McKei­then from Pro­gres­sive Bap­tist Church af­ter ser­vices for the 16-year-old stu­dent on Satur­day. McKei­then was shot at school Mon­day morn­ing.

Mourn­ers re­act at the end of Bobby McKei­then’s fu­neral ser­vice. Speak­ers re­minded the group that teens die too of­ten af­ter con­flicts that could have been re­solved.

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