Fatal shooting of young mother in downtown Durham leaves toddler an orphan

A toddler has been left orphaned by gun violence in Durham after a shooting this month in a downtown nightlife district.

Twanda Shant’e Parker, 24, was fatally shot after midnight Nov. 5 near the intersection of West Morgan and Watts streets, near Brightleaf Square and a block from Duke University’s East Campus.

Parker left behind her 2-year-old son, Zyeir, who also lost his father to gun violence before his first birthday.

Zyeir’s father and Parker’s boyfriend, Blake Burnette, was shot on Briggs Avenue in East Durham in July 2022, police confirmed to The News & Observer.

The death of Parker has been especially hard on Toya Deans, Parker’s cousin-in-law.

“She’s always been such a bright beautiful soul,” Deans, 40, told The N&O. “She loved to have fun. She was very adventurous, and she loved her family.”

Parker and Deans grew up in East Durham.

“It’s hard on my kids; she was their favorite cousin,” Deans said. “It’s been kind of hard. She was around us a lot.”

For Deans’ teenage daughters, their cousin — more like their big sister — will be the fourth family member or close friend they’ve lost to shootings, she said.

“It’s just such a shame that she lost her life due to gun violence,” she said. “She wasn’t a violent person. She had a bright future ahead of her.”

Parker attended Northern High School and then the Holton Career & Resource Center. She lived in Butner and was in town for the weekend, according to Deans.

“She came to Durham just to see family and have a good time,” she said.

Everywhere Parker went, she liked to take a picture, said Parker’s mother, Pamela.

Parker’s Facebook profile was full of selfies, including a hairdresser’s photos of her modeling colorful curly wigs.

“It’s going to be hard for me to sit there during the funeral and she be there,” Pamela told ABC11, The N&O’s news partner. “If (Zyeir) sees her in the casket, he’s going to want to go get her.”

Shootings in Durham over the years

Parker was taken to a hospital after she was shot and died from her injuries, according to Durham police.

Police have not arrested a suspect and are asking anyone with information to contact investigator B. Garth at 919-560-4440 ext. 29313 or CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200.

Thirty-four people have been fatally shot in Durham this year, slightly higher than the previous two years, according to the most recent Durham police statistics.

As of Nov. 4, the number of total shootings — fatal and non-fatal — is down: 169, compared to 211 and 242 by the same date the previous two years.

The N&O and The Herald-Sun list the Triangle’s most recent homicides online every week, updated on Mondays.