“He was happy to be alive”
Jesus Huerta just wanted to get away from an argument in his home, friends say.
His mother, Sylvia Fernandez, just wanted to make sure her son was safe.
But somehow, early Tuesday morning, everything went horribly wrong in the back of a Durham police patrol car.
Jose Gomez, a family friend, said Thursday that Huerta’s mother called police to pick the boy up and bring him home. Officer Samuel Duncan used an old second-degree trespassing warrant to justify doing so, Gomez said.
But Huerta never made it home again.
“From all I heard, it was just a big mistake,” Gomez said.
As the officer pulled the car into the parking lot, Chief Jose Lopez Sr. said, Duncan heard a loud noise and jumped from the moving vehicle. The car rolled into a nearby van.
The frantic call came in about 2:55 a.m. Tuesday . The 911 operator asked the caller’s location.
“Parking lot,” the man answered. “I’m in the parking lot…headquarters.”
At this point, the caller said something that seems somewhat muddled in the audio of the recording – either “three shots fired” or “believe shots fired.” [Listen to the 911 recording online through the link on this page.]
“10-4, are you hurt?” the operator asked.
“Don’t believe so,” the man replied.
Moments later, the caller said, “Request EMS for a gunshot wound. Approximately 18-year-old male, not breathing.”
That, according to the 911 recording released by the Durham City/County Emergency Communications Department, is how paramedics were called to the scene outside Durham Police Headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street. They found Huerta, 17, fatally wounded.
Thursday, it remained unclear precisely how Huerta died. The state medical examiner’s office has completed the autopsy, but a report on cause of death has not yet been released.
Lopez told reporters on Tuesday that however Huerta died, it wasn’t because of a gun fired by a police officer.
It’s not clear whether the Riverside High student had access to a weapon – police haven’t implied that he did, but it’s also not publicly known whether he had been properly searched or restrained with handcuffs behind the back as required by department policy.
The incident is still under active investigation by the department’s professional standards division, homicide detectives and the State Bureau of Investigation.
Huerta’s case, as well as the police shootings earlier this year of Derek Deandre Walker and Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, remain open investigations by the SBI. Officials wouldn’t indicate how soon they might be resolved.
“We generally don’t speculate on how long an investigation may take because each [case] is different,” said Jennifer Canada, SBI spokeswoman.
Duncan remains on administrative leave with pay.
Gomez knew Huerta at Jordan High School, which Huerta attended before transferring to Riverside this year.
Huerta loved movies and hanging out at the mall, Gomez said. He wanted to finish high school and go to work for his family.
He had called his mother to come pick him up. “He was ready to go home,” Gomez said.
Gomez doesn’t think his friend died by his own hand.
“From the bottom of my heart, I believe he would not take his own life,” Gomez said. “It wasn’t in him to do something like that. He was happy to be alive.”