State News

Friends say wrong man arrested in Durham tire store shooting

Posted April 2, 2012 5:57 a.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2012 5:07 p.m. EDT

— Police arrested a Durham man in connection with a fatal shooting last month at a local tire store simply because he has a tattoo on his face, the man's friends said Monday.

O'Brian McNeil White, 24, was charged Friday with two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of robbery with a dangerous weapon. He is being held without bond in the Durham County jail.

A gunman opened fire inside J.T. Tire, at 2202 E. Geer St., on March 23, killing store employee Naomi Wright, 65, and customer Abdelgadir Mergany Abdelganir, 32.

Store employee Terry Shaw, 51, and customer Javier Ramirez were critically wounded in the shooting. Shaw was released from Duke University Hospital last Thursday. No information on Ramirez' condition was available.

Numerous people showed up at the Durham County Courthouse on Monday to support White during his first court appearance. Despite being in handcuffs and shackles, he blew kisses to some of his relatives and friends.

Travis Jackson, who was raised with White and calls him his "little brother," and other supporters said police arrested the wrong man, maintaining that they picked him up because he has a small tattoo on his left temple. Police described the gunman as having a tattoo on the left side of his face.

Several of White's friends have similar tattoos on their faces.

"We're going to be at his back 100 percent because I know he didn't do it," Jackson said. "He has a lot of people fighting for him, and we’re going to be right here for him till justice is brought to the person who did this."

Police said Friday that evidence at the shooting scene links White to the crime, but they have declined to be more specific.

Army officials said Monday that White went absent without leave from Fort Bragg in December 2009. A private second-class and a parachute rigger, he is now listed as a deserter by the Army.

His mother told WRAL News that he had been discharged from the military last year.

Jackson said White has been working as a truck driver in recent months.

Rev. Raymond Burroughs, pastor of Bethel Tabernacle United Holy Church, said White, who used to be an usher in the church, has shown signs of mental illness.

"He was a good guy," Burroughs said. "There were some things that came up over the years, and he didn't get the help that he needed. I hope he gets the resources that are available to him."

J.T. Tire reopened Monday for the first time since the shootings, although owner John Turner didn't feel well enough to come in.

"I could have gone anywhere – right down the street, there’s another guy – and I chose to come here because this is like family," longtime customer Bryan Brandon said. "I’ve been patronizing his business for years, and I thought I should show my support."