NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Since he was born, 17-year-old Justice Dunham had a great relationship with his father, Mike.
Today, Mike Dunham is heartbroken.
“He wanted to go to college, he liked real estate, and investing in different things, and he wanted to be successful. We were trying to give him the tools and trying to do everything I could to help him be successful,” Mike told us.
Justice was shot and killed Tuesday night in the parking lot of Menchville High School following a basketball game. Police said an altercation in the parking lot led to the shooting.
The suspect, 18-year-old Demari Batten, was taken into police custody at the scene. He’s charged with second-degree murder, shooting a firearm on school grounds, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Justice was a winner with an Advanced Studies Diploma, and he was a star wide receiver on the Woodside High School football team. There are plenty of videos of Justice going deep to catch a heaved pass downfield.
“We did everything we could to make sure our son was safe. Who would have thought when he asked to go do a basketball game on a Tuesday night that he would not come home from that basketball game?” Dunham said.
The chaos of Tuesday night in the parking lot of Menchville High School leaves many unknown details on what happened.
10 On Your Side uncovered a discrepancy in the storyline of what Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew initially told reporters happened. The chief at Wednesday’s news conference explained that the suspect, Batten, walked toward Justice’s car and shot him.
“I am 100 million percent sure my son died at the shooter’s car,” Justice’s father Mike Dunham told us.
This is important because it gives credence to Batten’s statements to investigators that are seen in court documents.
In his statement to the police, Batten told detectives four or five other people were at the passenger door attempting to enter his friend’s vehicle, where he had been sitting after leaving the basketball game. Batten said they pushed the door, wedging Batten between the door and the car. According to court documents, Batten admitted he pointed a gun toward the driver’s side and pulled the trigger. He said he fired his weapon to get them away.
Court documents state: “He [Batten] entered the vehicle and attempted to close the door. One of the males held the front passenger door open and attempted to assault him while others were at the driver’s door attempted to enter the vehicle and assault him… Batten advised he had a firearm on the floorboard next to his left foot, which he grabbed. Batten pointed the gun toward the driver side and pulled the trigger.”
Justice was shot in the chest.
We asked Dunham if that scenario gives credence to what Batten is claiming: that guys were coming into this car and he fired and he hit Justice, building a potential case for self-defense.
“It sounds like he [Batten] doesn’t know who he shot, who he aimed at, or even if there was intent for Justice to be that victim. I don’t know what Justice was doing in that situation other than being a 17-year-old young man,” Dunham said.
Following our interview with Dunham, a police spokeswoman confirmed Dunham was shot at the car Batten had taken to the game.
“But that doesn’t necessarily put Justice as someone who is committing some type of assault on this young man, and I believe it put Justice in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Dunham said.
Dunham said his son did not deserve what happened to him.
“What if Justice knew one of the kids, and was trying to pull one of them off, saying ‘Stop come with me’? Who knows what was going on at that second, but no matter what it was, it wasn’t worth any of those guys losing their life,” Dunham said.
The father claims eyewitnesses came up to him to tell him Justice was under attack.
“I asked them multiple times ‘Did you know Justice was on the ground being kicked?’ Yes, they said three or four people were jumping Justice and they heard a shot,” he said.
Justice drove his car to the game, and police found inside his car two guns.
“He was a new driver. He was driving a group of people to the game. I know as a responsible parent and a gun owner like myself, my son and I have had numerous conversations about guns and gun safety… I don’t believe these guns belonged to my son. I’m not a 100% sure who the guns would belong to,” he said.
There are statements made that police are not ruling anything out, including whether this was a gang-related incident.
“My son was a homebody. He was my son. He wasn’t in a gang… It wasn’t a normal father-son relationship — we could talk about everything,” Dunham said.
Dunham said as the police zipped the body bag with his beloved son inside he could see abrasions all over his face, “like he had been roughed up.”
Police have a lot of loose ends to tie up, but for now, a family grieves wishing they could turn back time.
On Thursday night, more than 200 people attended a vigil for Justice. Many left flowers and candles. Others brought pairs of sneakers.
During an impassioned speech Dunham had a message specifically for students.
“What I’m saying to ya’ll. If you want to make it, you want to get out of here, you want to get stuff going, forget the path of getting into fights at basketball games, taking stupid pictures on Instagram and who’s this and who’s that. I don’t remember none of that now,” Dunham said. “(Justice) will never walk again, he’ll never catch a football game again. He won’t do any of that again. For what?”
Afterward, a man led those gathered in “Amazing Grace” and prayed for the Dunham’s and the entire community.
Dunham is asking for people to donate money to the Peninsula Boys and Girls Club.
“Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula’s family is overwhelmed with sadness over Justice’s passing. We extend our thoughts, prayers and support to his parents Jan and Mike, his family and Woodside High School teachers, students and members of the football team,” said Hal Smith, President & CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula. ” At Justice’s parents request, donations to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula will be dedicated to our Peninsula Unit in Justice’s memory, where he was a member from 2011 through 2016. We plan to meet with the Dunham family after the holidays to determine how they would like the funds used.”
A Celebration of Life will be held on Wednesday, December 22 at Liberty Live Church on Big Bethel Road in Hampton. The viewing will begin at 10 a.m., followed by a service at noon.