NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — 17-year-old Woodside High School student Justice Dunham was fatally shot after a basketball game at Menchville High School on Tuesday night and an 18-year-old Warwick High School student has been charged with murder, police confirmed.
It marked the city’s 27th homicide of the year.
The suspect, Demari Batten, was taken into police custody at the scene, Police Chief Steve Drew announced Wednesday at a press conference. He’s been charged with second-degree murder, shooting a firearm on school grounds, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Batten was arraigned Wednesday morning and is due back in court on January 20. He declined to speak with the media.
In the briefing, Drew said that Dunham was shot around 8:40 p.m. next to a vehicle in the parking lot as a large crowd was leaving the basketball game between Menchville and rival Woodside (crowd estimated to be around 1,000 people.) There was also a nearby concert going on at the time.
The preliminary investigation revealed the shooting stemmed from a verbal altercation that started in the gym during the game, Drew said, with footage showing gestures back and forth.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew spoke in detail about the case on Wednesday. Watch the full news conference in the player below.
“I can tell you, from what I understand, there are two individuals and they are on opposite sides and verbal and gestures back and forth. And I think some footage shows one of the individuals walking out [of the gym] and a little bit later the other,” Drew said.
The chief did not specify who left the gym first to go out to the parking lot.
“There is an altercation, and there is a shot fired,” Drew said.
Officers gave first aid and CPR to Dunham, but he died at the scene.
On December 16, officials with Newport News Police told 10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox that 17-year-old Justice Dunham was shot at the suspect’s car, not his own. This is a correction from what Drew previously said.
A police department spokeswoman also said that Batten was sitting in his friend’s vehicle at the time of the shooting.
Drew said Batten fired one shot, and there was one cartridge retrieved, and it appears both the suspect and victim had guns in their possession.
Three guns were recovered at the scene. One was used by the suspect and the other two were in the vehicle Dunham arrived in, Drew said. Drew said there’s no evidence at this time that Batten had the gun inside the school.
Drew said he credits officers at the scene — at least five school resource officers and about a dozen total officers — and witness statements for the quick arrest.
“My heart goes out to both families, especially Justice’s family. And their loss,” Drew said.
Newport News Mayor McKinley Price was also at the press conference on Wednesday and also gave his condolences.
“I’ve been mayor 11 years now and this never gets easy. Having to do this once is one too many times,” Price said.
Price, who is on several committees about tackling gun violence, said access to guns is too easy.
“As a country and as a society, we won’t do what is necessary to keep not only our children safe but our own families safe. Something needs to be done. What does it take? Gun violence is out of control. Period. It’s just out of control. When it’s easier to get a gun than a pack of cigarettes. 3 guns. 3 guns at the scene. It could have been a whole lot worse. Thank God it wasn’t.”
Orlando Vincent was at the game in which the Menchville varsity basketball team fell to crosstown rival Woodside.
Vincent said when he and his family were walking out he heard the “pop” sound of a gun, but didn’t see anyone screaming or running.
“It was moments later we saw the large police response,” Vincent said. “It’s sad you can’t even go to a basketball game.”
Many people remained at the scene late Tuesday night, hugging each other, visibly upset.
On Wednesday, a witness told 10 On Your Side that the shooting left her family traumatized. Some parents on the scene said they saw no indication of danger until the single shot was fired.
While police said this case is solved, parents say no one has solved the problem of kids and guns.
Around the same time as the shooting outside Menchville High School, 10 On Your Side started receiving reports from viewers about shots fired near Bethel High School in Hampton. Wednesday morning, Sgt. R.C. Williams confirmed there was evidence of shots fired, but said there is no indication the shots were made towards the school. There were no reports of injury or property damage. A basketball game was also underway at Bethel High School. Sgt. Williams said additional officers responded to assist with the dismissal of the game.
Chief Drew during Wednesday’s news briefing said there is no indication the two incidents are connected.
Woodside and Menchville were both closed Wednesday. The other schools in Newport News had a regularly scheduled half-day dismissal for students Wednesday.
On Wednesday, while schools are closed, there will be a support hotline that students can call from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for student support at 757-283-7868.
Students at Menchville High School and Woodside High School will return to school on Thursday. Additional security measures will be in place. Support specialists will also be at both schools to assist students and staff who need counseling or other care.
All Menchville and Woodside athletic events are postponed and afterschool activities have been canceled for this week.