Teenager shot in the head at northern Orange County party barn

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office says two people were shot at this party barn in Cedar Grove in northern Orange County early Sunday morning.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office says two people were shot at this party barn in Cedar Grove in northern Orange County early Sunday morning. vbridges@newsobservercom

An Orange County teenager was found shot in the head early Sunday morning at a party in a rural, northern part of the county, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

Deputies arrived at what the Sheriff’s Office called a party barn at 5223 Mill Creek Road in Cedar Grove at 1:24 a.m. where about 150 people were on the scene, according to a news release.

There had been as many as 300 people there earlier when a fight broke out and gunshots were heard.

The 18-year-old young woman, whose name was not released, was found with gunshot wounds behind the barn and was airlifted to UNC Hospitals with life-threatening injuries.

Investigators also learned a second person had been shot in the leg and taken to UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus. That person was treated and released but would not cooperate with investigators, according to the news release.

No arrests had been made as of Sunday afternoon, but investigators think more than one person was involved in the shootings.

On Sunday two neighbors said they had heard the event was a high school party. The initial investigation confirmed many of those in attendance were high-school age, said Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes.

In the release, Sheriff Charles Blackwood said large parties can challenge investigators because, once there’s trouble, people leave quickly.

“By the time we’re called, everyone is gone and the people who were there often don’t wish to cooperate or be identified, making it difficult, if not impossible, to gain accurate accounts of what happened from credible witnesses,” Blackwood said.

Often, those at such gatherings may be underage, further hampering investigators.

“As a parent, we always worry about our children when they are away from us, no matter what their age,” Blackwood said. “It’s difficult to make the call that no parent wants to receive; it’s even more difficult when we don’t have all the answers as to what happened to their child.”

The Sheriff’s Office responded to a gunshot report at the Smokehouse Valley Farm event venue at least once within recent months, but no one was hurt, Sykes said.

Sykes said they hope to have more information in coming days. “We know there are more people who can provide information as to what happened,” he said.

Around 2 p.m. Sunday, the Smokehouse Valley Farm venue was empty as two spent bonfires smoldered. The property includes a small wooden barn with a back deck, two portable bathrooms, and sitting areas made of wooden pallets.

Arthur Poole said his brother owns the property that was initially built for family events. Poole said his brother started renting it to the public about two years ago.

The shooting “shocked me,” said Poole, who lives nearby.

A man who described himself as an owner of the property declined to speak with a reporter.

The area, which includes a mix of residential and farm land, is generally quiet, Poole said. Other neighbors agreed, and said they didn’t have any concerns about the venue.

Wanda Torain, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years, said she has never had concerns about the venue or its events. Torain and other neighbors say they heard gunshots once before at a graduation event within the last year or so, but nothing came of it.

Torain said she didn’t hear the Saturday night party, but she heard multiple gunshots.

“I was in the bed, and I got up and looked out,” she said.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Sgt. Dawn Hunter at the Sheriff’s Office at 919-245-2915 or dhunter@orangecountync.gov.

Schultz: 919-829-8950; @HeraldSunEditor