Suspect in July Fourth stabbing death was defending himself, friend says
Posted July 7
Updated July 8
Raleigh, N.C. — A man arrested in the fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old boy during a Fourth of July fireworks show in downtown Raleigh was defending himself, a friend of the suspect said Monday.
Jerome Lee Gardner, 20, of Raleigh, was charged with murder Saturday in the death of Tahje Alexander Mials, who police say was stabbed at the intersection of South Wilmington and East Cabarrus streets shortly after 11 p.m. Friday.
Mials died at a local hospital. Gardner made his first appearance in Wake County District Court Monday afternoon, when he was denied bond and appointed a public defender.
Raleigh police have said the crime was not random, but they haven't commented on a possible motive for the stabbing.
Gardner's friend, David Valentine, however, said the suspect and victim didn't know each other, and he denied speculation that Gardner is involved in a gang.
"Most definitely, he was defending himself," Valentine said. "He's not the type of dude to just like – there weren't no beef."
Mials and Gardner exchanged words during the Independence Day celebration, Valentine said, and Mials left and returned with a group of people to fight Gardner.
"They can't say it's gang-related," said Valentine, who was involved in the fight. "We don't affiliate with none of that mess."
Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue could not say whether the stabbing was gang-related, saying only that no gang-related charges have been filed.
"I know Jerome. He is a very kind and loving person," Gardner family friend Larry McLean said. "There is no way in the world that he would have provoked any kind of incident. Now, as far as self-defense, he will defend himself."
Mials was a student at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, a spokeswoman for the Wake County Public School System said.
His family members could not be reached for comment Monday, but Brian Murphy, a Millbrook science teacher, said Mials was in his earth science class.
"Tahje had great potential, a kind heart and a witty sense of humor," he said in an email. "He was well-liked. A terrible tragedy."