18-year-old charged with murder after shooting near Durham school leaves 2 teens dead

An 18-year-old has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder after two teens were found fatally shot Wednesday near a northern Durham middle school and a third was left with life-threatening injuries, police said.

The shootings occurred near Brogden Middle School by the intersection of Hudson Avenue and North Buchanan Boulevard, according to police.

Durham police said late Wednesday that Jorge Raul Benitez-Mendoza, 18, of Durham had been arrested. In addition to being charged with first-degree murder, he faces one charge of attempted first-degree murder.

Mendoza is in custody and will be transported to the Durham County Magistrate’s Office.

The arrest capped off almost 24 hours of anxiety, then mourning, after the Durham community learned three teens had been involved in a deadly shooting.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, police responded to a call about a 16-year-old boy who had been shot. His parents took him to a local hospital, where police said Wednesday he was in stable condition with life-threatening injuries.

The teen said two others might have been shot, so officials deployed a drone and a cadaver dog overnight. Shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, police found the bodies of two 16-year-old boys near the intersection, which is north of Interstate 85.

Durham Public Schools confirmed that the two teens were Angel Canales, who was a freshman at Riverside High School, and Osmar Banegas, a freshman at Lakeview School, an alternative school in the Durham system.

The shootings do not appear to be a random act, police said.

Durham police spokeswoman Crystal Price said Police Chief Patrice Andrews wasn’t available for comment when contacted by The News & Observer on Wednesday.

Law enforcement investigate a homicide near the intersection of Hudson Avenue and North Buchanan Boulevard on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Durham, N.C. Kaitlin McKeown/
Law enforcement investigate a homicide near the intersection of Hudson Avenue and North Buchanan Boulevard on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Durham, N.C. Kaitlin McKeown/

Family members gather at the scene

Family members of Canales gathered at the scene Wednesday morning.

“He said he was going to see his girlfriend last night,” said Jasmin Gonzalez, who is Canales’ cousin. “His dad went to bed and saw he didn’t come home. His aunt called him to tell him (police) found him.”

“Since last night his body has been here; they haven’t let us see him yet,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez joined about a dozen family members and friends near the site by apartment complexes where the boys were found.

“It was gangs who killed him,” Maritza Barahona said, identifying herself as Canales’ aunt and speaking in Spanish.

Officers with the Durham Police Department’s gang unit canvassed the crime scene Wednesday morning. Police have not said whether or not the shootings were gang-related.

“He didn’t live around here,” Barahona said. “He supposedly came here to see his girlfriend, but he didn’t go to see her and he came here.”

“I have to keep myself calm because I have high blood pressure,” she said. “It hurts; I’m his aunt.”

Durham Police are on the scene of a suspected shooting near Brogden Middle School. ABC11
Durham Police are on the scene of a suspected shooting near Brogden Middle School. ABC11

Second recent shooting near a Durham school

This is the second homicide investigation near a Durham school this year.

In February, two students at Hillside High School were shot in woods near the school. A 17-year-old boy died from his injuries.

Andrews, the police chief, presented the 2022 Annual Crime Report to the Durham City Council one month ago just weeks after the shooting.

“I am concerned about the gun violence, and the fact that these kids are getting younger and younger,” Andrews said at the time. “Fourteen years old, that’s young. That’s way too young. Those are adult issues, adult things that they are either victimized for or they are committing.”

Durham Public Schools also said that counselors and support staff are making themselves available at Riverside and Lakeview to provide additional care for students and staff after the shootings.

“We call on our community, once again, to stand against gun violence. We must counter the easy availability of weapons and provide opportunities and social support networks for our youth, so that violence is unthinkable and hope is universal,” the Durham school district said in a statement. “We call on the people of Durham County to join our students in this cause.”

The ongoing problem of violence

On Wednesday, Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton addressed the ongoing problem of violence against young people in Durham.

“In my time as a public official, I have received many reports and briefings about troubling things. But today I don’t think I have ever felt more devastated and sickened by what our city has learned about the death of these babies. There can be no full-throated, enthusiastic celebration of the greatness of Durham until the most vulnerable and powerless of our neighbors are safe. Who are more vulnerable than our children? This is a heartbreakingly dark day for our city. Our love and our city’s heartbeat belongs to the families of those children.”

As of March 18, there were 11 homicides, 10 of them fatal shootings, so far this year.

That compares to six fatal shootings and seven fatal shootings by the same date in the previous two years, according to police statistics.

Brogden Middle School was put on secure status while police investigated Wednesday morning, meaning students and staff could move about the school but no one could enter or exit.

Police are asking anyone with possible information to call Investigator J.D. Harris at 919-560-4440 ext. 29120 or CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards of up to $2,000 for information leading to arrests in felony cases, and callers never have to identify themselves.