Durham, N.C. — A 26-year-old man who was shot to death by police in downtown Durham Tuesday afternoon posted on his Facebook page before the fatal standoff that he was upset about a custody dispute over his son and that he hoped to die soon.
Investigators say Derek Deandre Walker walked into downtown Durham's CCB Plaza on Corcoran Street shortly after 4 p.m., distraught, waving a gun and shouting.
WRAL News video from the scene showed what appeared to be Walker repeatedly saying "shoot me" while pointing his gun at officers.
Negotiations failed, and the standoff ended about an hour later with police Cpl. R. C. Swartz firing at Walker.
He died at a local hospital.
Walker was training to be a mortician at Hanes Funeral Service in Durham, the funeral home's director, Bishop Franklin Hanes, said Wednesday.
"We were very close. He was like a son," Hanes said.
Hanes said he wasn't sure why Walker was involved in the police confrontation but said he was upset about some papers he received in the mail this week.
"I don't know what it was about, but it shook him, and he said the justice system did him wrong."
Latasha Alston, the boy's mother, also isn't sure what led Walker to Tuesday's events, saying she was shocked at the Facebook message because she had no plans to file for full custody.
"I don't know what drove him to this point," Alston said. "There was never a custody battle over my son. I told Derek I wanted joint custody, so why he would say that, I don't know."
Court records, however, show that Alston filed for primary or full custody on Sept. 9.
Alston said she and Walker did go to court to talk about how to handle custody as their son entered school but that there was no dispute or drama involved.
"I am very family-oriented," she said. "I wanted my son to know his dad."
In Tuesday's Facebook post, Walker wrote that he had no reason to live after learning that his 5-year-old child's mother wanted full custody.
"I hope if there is a god that he allow the devil to kill me right now bc there is no reason for me to live right now!" he wrote in the post. "Im ready to die."
Hanes said he tried calling Walker after finding out about the message but couldn't get in touch with him until Walker called him after 4 p.m., crying and giving him instructions on how to bury him.
"He cried and said, 'I love you, but I'm going to do it,'" Hanes said. "I said, 'Listen, don't do anything crazy,' and he hung up."
Hanes said the man he knew wasn't the man on TV Tuesday evening and that he doesn't want people to get the wrong idea about who Walker was.
"Derek was a trusted person, a person with integrity," he said. "You saw somebody out there who just snapped. That's what I want people to know. It wasn't just anybody who ran up town with a gun. That was somebody who just snapped."
Hanes said funeral arrangements are pending.
Meanwhile, the State Bureau of Investigation is investigating Tuesday's shooting, which is a standard procedure whenever a police officer is involved.
Swartz, who joined the Durham Police Department in 2001 and is assigned to the Special Operations Division, is on administrative leave with pay, which is also routine in such cases.
At a vigil Wednesday evening for Walker, his uncle Ricky Hart questioned the use of deadly force.
"We are just trying to come to grips with understanding why (police) went from verbal negotiations for 59 minutes to next minute taking deadly force action against this young man," Hart said.
Police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said Wednesday that officers are trained as negotiators and many also undergo crisis intervention training for such situations.
"Officers deal with dynamic situations that are rapidly evolving and require real-time decision-making," she said. "The officers spoke with Mr. Walker for approximately an hour before his actions dictated the course of events."