Newport News community spreads message of hope following deadly shooting outside school

Posted at 7:15 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 23:23:20-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The news of a teen shot and killed in the parking lot of Menchville High School Tuesday night is sparking a bigger conversation across the Newport News community.

“I do not understand how these children feel it’s necessary to bring one to school, to a school event,” said Sharon Raha of Newport News.

Another woman agreed, pointing to her grandson saying, “This right here, this is our future.”

The discussion began less than 24 hours following the deadly shooting outside the high school. Police say, Justice Dunham, 17, was leaving a basketball game when a fight broke out and another student, Demari Batten, 18, pulled out a gun. According to police, he fired one shot killing Dunham.

The student-athlete went to Woodside High School. A small memorial now sits in the parking lot where he died.

Batten, a student at Warwick High School, has been charged in connection to Dunham’s death.

According to the police report, Batten claims he fired the gun after he was jumped.

Tuesday’s homicide is the second incident in the city in the last three months where a student brought a gun onto school property.

“It makes me really sad,” said Raha. “Very, very sad that they feel the need to do that to protect themselves or to defend someone else. For other reasons, we don’t know why they bring them.”

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew makes it a point to reach out to young kids and talk to them about issues while trying to break the cycle of violence.

“I ask them why do you think some of these individuals have these firearms?” said Drew. “Some of that they said was fear, some of that as they said they use it for intimidation. Some of them talked about that people have them because that’s the norm. Easy access. They talked about it makes people feel stronger and empowered. There’s a variety. Some of it was pressure.”

Drew said the department has programs in place and works with organizations to help curb teen gun violence. He said there’s no one solution that will stop gun violence but he said it’s everyone’s responsibility to try.

“If we go down the idea or the strategy that we’re going to put it on the police department, I think we fail,” he said. “I think we play a role. I think the schools play a role. I think our faith leaders and our pastors play a role. I think mentorship, I think families, parents play a role.”

It starts with a conversation, Drew said, but needs to be followed up with action.

“If we save one person, if we change one life, I think that’s beneficial,” he said.

Meantime, the small but powerful group of community members gathered down the street from Menchville High School in front of a live nativity scene off Warwick Boulevard spreading a message of hope.

They say they want to remind young people that guns are not the answer.

“We need to really instill in them hope and that they don’t need to hurt one another,” Raha said. “Life is so precious. That’s what we need to teach them is that life is precious no matter what. If children were to hold onto this, they wouldn’t need guns.”

School was canceled Wednesday for all Menchville and Woodside high school students but they’ll both be back open Thursday with extra security on hand.

Related: Friends heartbroken over loss of Woodside football player that was fatally shot after basketball game