Local News

Police: UNC, Duke Slayings Not Gang-Related

Posted March 13, 2008 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2008 11:19 a.m. EDT

— Investigators don't believe the shooting deaths of two students – one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one at Duke University – are gang-related, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Thursday.

Speculation grew in the days following UNC Student Body President Eve Carson's March 5 slaying that two suspects depicted in surveillance photos taken at a Chapel Hill automated teller machine and a convenience store were members of a gang because of their age and hat that one of them wore.

Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, of 1213 Shepherd St. in Durham, and Demario James Atwater, 21, of 414-B Macon St. in Durham, have been charged with first-degree murder in Carson's death. Lovette also has been charged with the Jan. 18 slaying of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato.

Lopez said the pair appears to have been acting alone in committing random crimes.

"I don't give any credit to any gangs at this point in time. I believe they are two young men who were involved in some robberies and homicides, and they have been charged as such."

Durham has a major gang problem, according to a recent report. More than a quarter of juveniles adjudicated for crimes in the city were identified as gang members, which is three times the statewide rate, the report said.

Lopez said Durham shouldn't be blamed for the alleged crimes of Lovette and Atwater. He noted that people from Raleigh and other cities commit crimes in Durham, too.

"This is an incident that was committed by an individual and not by the city. I don't think it was because they were from Durham that caused them to commit this crime. (It's) possibly because they were (in) Durham that caused them to get caught."

Durham police tracked down and arrested both.

Arnold Dennis, director of the Juvenile Justice Center at North Carolina Central University, said criminal elements among young people in Durham stem from a broken social system in which there's a significant divide between the wealthy and the poor.

"We haven't been able to connect in a substantial way with these folks who really need to be brought into the mainstream in terms of employment," Dennis said.

The Durham Police Department has one of the largest anti-gang units in North Carolina, but its efforts aren't well coordinated, according to the recent study, which was funded by the department and the Durham County Sheriff's Office. Schools and other agencies often ignore the gang problem, the study found.

The study's report recommended the following steps to combat the gang problem:

  • prioritize gang cases in the courts to resolve them more quickly
  • restructure the police gang unit to focus on improved intelligence and fast prosecutions
  • coordinate local services for troubled youths
  • enforce truancy sanctions and limit school expulsions to the most serious infractions
  • expand positive-behavior programs in schools

Dennis said that fixing the problem will take more than government intervention.

"It's a community problem, not a family problem," he said. "Stop pointing fingers. ... Either we're going solve it, or we're going to constantly lock kids up."