Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Mom of New Hanover High shooting suspect says she sought help from district days before incident

Domanae Deablo spoke publicly Thursday at Sokoto House about her 15-year-old son’s arrest for allegedly shooting another student at New Hanover High. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– The mother of the 15-year-old arrested for Monday’s shooting at New Hanover High School is accusing the district of failing her son after the family approached administrators twice about their son being a target. One of those encounters was roughly 30 minutes before the shooting, she said.

For the first time, Domanae Deablo spoke publicly Thursday about her son’s side of the story.

“My job is, right now — is to make sure that [he] is treated fairly,” Deablo said. “That [his] character is not tarnished.” 

Around 30 people, including local media, met at Sokoto House, a community center on Dawson Street, to hear Deablo’s perspective. Most of the crowd was there in support and gave Deablo a standing ovation as the 23-minute interview wrapped.

“They need the accurate story,” Deablo told reporters. “They need the full story of who we are, of who he is and not just what they said on the news conference and what they put out about him.”

She said cellphone videos of the shooting show another student with a gun that is not her son. Deablo declined to speak further on the allegations, such as why her son would possess a gun, and rather focused on the events leading up to the incident. The Deablo family has retained a lawyer for the 15-year-old, who is in a juvenile detention center.

From the first day of school, Aug. 23, Deablo suggested her son was a target. She said he woke up two Mondays ago, excited to wear his new clothes and meet new classmates. About 30 minutes after he was dropped off at school, he walked through the door of their home.

Confused, Deablo said she asked her son if he was not on the roster at New Hanover High. Originally, he was expected to attend school 7.5 miles away, but, according to the family’s GoFundMe, the student was bussed to the opposite side of town.

“He was originally at Laney and they did not want him there. At all,” Deablo said.

Deablo’s son went on to explain to his mother that he got into a fight. He said he walked to Family Dollar to buy some snacks and noticed a couple of guys following him. Deablo said her son overheard the men talking about him: “He said, ‘I heard him on the phone speaking with someone else saying, ‘He’s there. His brother’s not here. He’s with his cousin,”” Deablo explained.

Her son continued walking until he was under the catwalk at New Hanover High School, according to Deablo. That’s when an 18-year-old approached and initiated a fight, which was caught on video.

Deablo said she went to the school that day to discuss the altercation and her son’s 10-day suspension. She also said she spoke to the head of security at New Hanover County Schools.

“I said to him, ‘I can’t do this every day,'” Deablo said. “‘We’re not going to do this every day. What do we need to do to put something in place where this does not happen again? This was his first day he had stepped foot actually on the campus.’”

Deablo said she left with the understanding that the man who fought her son was not a student and was not supposed to be on campus in the first place, and that the district would “put things in place” to prevent a second fight.

The following day, her son’s suspension was reduced from 10 to five days, she said.

When she dropped her son off Monday, Deablo said she circled back four times, feeling uneasy. Her son assured her all was fine.

“I said, ‘We can go home,’” she recalled. “He was like, ‘Mom, you got enough going on. The least I could do is go to school.’”

Later on that morning, Deablo said her husband was home when their 17-year-old son shared a Snapchat message from someone threatening to jump his brother. According to Deablo, the Snapchat warned, “You knew you wasn’t safe at Hanover. Go back to Laney, boy.”

“It’s a side of town, thing. If you’re not from this side of town, then you don’t come on this side,” Deablo explained. “And it’s a lot of gang rival, gang stuff going on. It’s a lot going on in this community that we are all aware of.”

Deablo denied her son is affiliated with a gang and said he has never been pressured to join the lifestyle. “He’s a leader, definitely not a follower,” she said.

After learning of the threat, Deablo said her husband went to New Hanover High in the morning to get in contact with his son and inform the front office. Deablo said her son, who was in gym class at the time, told his father he was fine and nothing had happened.

“My husband said he didn’t sense anything,” Deablo said. “That’s because nothing had occurred yet.”

During a class change, just after 11 a.m., Deablo said her son was attacked by multiple people.

“He was being jumped and hurt and kicked and stomped and slung around and everything,” she said.

She declined to speak further on what happened after that. One student was shot in the hand and leg, emergency transcripts confirm. Authorities reported the injuries were non-life threatening.

“I’ll leave that at that,” she said. “There’s video out that explains everything else.”

At least two cell phone videos are circulating of the incident. One 34-second clip shows a fight starting off between two students on the catwalk. The video pans to the opposite end of the hall where other students are brawling. A crowd is surrounding the chaotic scene.

One of the minors is dragged by his white T-shirt as students cry out, “No, no, stop, stop it.” Three gunshots ring out and the video cuts.

According to the emergency transcripts, officers initially described the alleged shooter as a Black teenage male, wearing all black with red and black shoes. Deablo’s son was named as the possible suspect within the first ten minutes of law enforcement arriving on the scene and was confirmed wanted at 11:44 a.m.

Deablo said she went to the school and returned home with a detective, where she got in contact with her son. She said she was asked if law enforcement could release her son’s name to the public and she declined.

“They said, ‘We’re gonna do it anyway because he’s the only child that was missing from the school.’ I said, ‘So why you gonna ask me if you gonna do it anyway?” she said.

Deablo reached her son by phone: “‘Where are you?’” she recalled telling him. 

Her son didn’t respond, she said.

“’I need you to come here,’” Deablo continued. “’You have to be detained. We are going to deal with this. I need you to get here.’”

Deablo said she asked for her son to come home because she believes in accountability and so she could be there when he was handcuffed: “I wanted to see my child, look in his eyes, look at his face. I wanted him to know that I loved him.”

Twenty minutes later she said she saw her son walking toward them.

“I asked him to put his hands up,” Deablo said. “I said, ‘You’re going to be detained. Be respectful. Don’t answer any questions. And we’ll get through this.’”

Deablo’s son is charged with carrying and discharging a weapon on school grounds, attempted first-degree murder, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflict serious injury.

About 30 minutes after he was apprehended, New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon shared the minor’s name in a press conference in front of the high school.

Deablo said she is now speaking with a lawyer about the sheriff identifying her underage son in the press briefing –– a decision that was widely condemned by community members and that the sheriff later backtracked on.

“This is something that we are not going to tolerate,” McMahon stated at the time. “Our schools need to be the safest place for our children to be.”

The following day the sheriff sent an email to all media asking the outlets to refrain from sharing the name of the juvenile in future coverage: 

“At the time, law enforcement was aware of widespread rumors and of misinformation regarding the perpetrator’s identity, which in turn were leading to school-system-wide fearfulness and to a potential risk of retaliation. Now that the lockdowns are over and the immediate period of emergency has passed, we ask that the news media voluntarily refrain from using the individual’s name and instead refer to the individual as simply the 15-year-old juvenile.”

The school district declined to respond to Deablo’s claims. Chief communications officer Josh Smith said the district is not commenting further at this time on the incident as it is part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

“We understand this incident has had far-reaching implications across our community, and we are focused on prioritizing the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” Smith said.

Deablo is accusing the district of failing to protect her child. She believes that’s clear from the footage that circulated after the altercation and shooting. “The video was very long and not one adult presence is in that video,” she said.

She also carries guilt for not listening to her gut instinct that morning when leaving her son at school.

“I felt as if I personally failed him because I shouldn’t have dropped him off,” Deablo said. “And I circled that block four times. My husband went there. We was worried about him. And we just really feel like we could have prevented this, by just telling him, ‘Just come home.’ And I feel guilty. And I felt as if I failed him somewhat. I don’t care what nobody says about him. I know the real him and everybody else does too.”

Catch up on PCD’s coverage of the NHHS shooting from Monday:

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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