Local News

Durham woman charged with throwing lighter fluid on son's teacher appears in court

Posted April 25, 2017 7:43 p.m. EDT
Updated April 26, 2017 5:28 p.m. EDT

— A Durham mother’s bond was raised to $500,000 Wednesday from $50,000. Police arrested Shequela Sheala Leonard, 30, saying she threw lighter fluid on her son's Eno Valley Elementary School kindergarten teacher Monday, threatening to burn the building down, according to an arrest warrant.

Leonard was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, malicious use of explosives causing injury and misdemeanor communicating threats. She was also ordered to not to have any contact with the teacher and to stay at least 1,000 feet away from the school and the board of education.

She had her first court appearance Wednesday. If convicted, Leonard could face up to 19 years in prison.

Durham police said that teacher Megan Jones had arranged a parent-teacher conference with Leonard, who became irate at criticisms of her son's behavior.

About five minutes into the meeting, the school principal told Leonard that she needed to leave the building, and the group, which included Leonard's son, exited into a hallway, police said.

Once in the hallway, Jones told police that Leonard pulled a bottle from her purse and began spraying a liquid on Jones' arms, face and chest. Jones ran away from Leonard when the liquid began burning her eyes, police said.

According to a warrant, Jones was injured when the substance, identified as lighter fluid, splashed into her eyes.

Leonard then threatened to light Jones on fire and burn the school down, before fleeing in her SUV, the warrant said.

District superintendent Bert L'Homme released a statement on Wednesday that said Jones returned to work and that the incident was an exception to the relationship between teachers and families.

"We are very grateful that the teacher affected by Monday’s incident is all right," L'Homme said in the statement. "She returned to work Tuesday and her school family has pulled together to support her. We ask that everyone respect her privacy. This incident is a strange exception to the mutual respect DPS’s families and educators maintain every day. Teachers and families must be partners to help our children succeed in school and life, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that they feel safe and valued in working with each other."

Leonard’s family has asked for her bond to be lowered, but the judge denied that request.

According to her lawyer, Leonard has no prior violent convictions.

Leonard's husband told WRAL News he feels the bond amount is incredibly unfair, and Leonard has two children at home who desperately miss their mother.