Students at Northern High School had barely completed a week of classes at the newly opened building when they were put under a lockdown on Monday.
Just before 11 a.m. that day, campus officers with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office were notified about an incident where a student stabbed a classmate. The officers are an everyday presence at Northern, where they serve as school resource officers. One student was injured and hospitalized, while the Sheriff’s Office detained three others for questioning.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office charged a 16-year-old male student with possession of a weapon on school grounds and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or inflict serious injury. They did not release the students’ names or additional information, citing the ages of the suspect and the victim.
In the aftermath of the incident, counselors and support staff at the new Northern High, which opened Sept. 5 and serves 1,400 students, worked to help students feel safe again.
“We have resources within our district that are here to assist students, families and staff members in dealing with traumatic events by being prepared to have a response, not just a reaction,” said the senior executive director of student support services at Durham Public Schools, LaVerne Mattocks-Perry. Mattocks oversees counseling, wellness, and discipline for the district.
Immediately after the incident, the school encouraged students, parents, and staff to meet with on-site counselors. In addition to the “first-line” counselors available for services daily, DPS’s rapid response team provided space for students and staff to discuss emotions regarding loss and safety. Mattocks said that a district-based counseling coordinator also visited Northern to help the administration and the student support services coordinate a longer-term response.
Still, some students at Northern doubted whether their peers—especially those experiencing or inflicting violence—actually utilize these resources. Moises Jaimes, 16, who has attended Northern for the past three years, said he has come across at least 10 different “fight pages,” or social media accounts dedicated solely to sharing videos of physical altercations on the school’s grounds. Since the school’s opening day, Jaimes said, there has been at least one fight every day.
“The violence is normal now,” Jaimes said. “It’s not a good thing, but it’s our reality at this point.” Jaimes was among the students who witnessed the stabbing. Afterward, he watched the fallout on Instagram, where, he said, the victim did a livestream to “show off” his wounds.
Jaimes said he thinks Northern should install metal detectors at campus entrances to deter students from bringing in deadly weapons.
Another student, Kaliyah Johnson, 16, said she saw blood in the stairwell the morning of Sept. 11 but didn’t know what to make of the scene at the time. Later, through word of mouth, she learned about the stabbing and the fight students said preceded it.
“I was scared because I saw people running,” Johnson said. “Some people said he [the perpetrator] was still in the building.”
Johnson and her friend Ayonna Thomas, 17, both said they called their parents while on lockdown—even though their teachers advised against it. Thomas said she wanted her mom to know she was okay.
“It really made me feel unsafe because many students are new here,” Thomas said. “You don’t know a lot of the people here. You don’t know what they are capable of.”
Thomas and Jaimes said that tensions between the involved parties were “high” in the days leading up to the stabbing. Backed by their friends, or “boys,” Jaimes said, the victim and assailant exchanged threats and taunts like “What you rep?” and “Where you from?” on campus and online. Statements released by DPS also suggest that the quarrel originated outside school walls.
“Although unfortunate, fights and skirmishes are not uncommon when school resumes after Summer. The incidents that have occurred are the result of community interactions being brought to school,” DPS spokeswoman Crystal Roberts said Thursday.
When the lockdown was lifted around 1 p.m., Northern High students were told to return to class. Because the lockdown delayed both lunch periods, some students said they felt hungry and antsy. Afterward, though, Johnson did not want to eat lunch or go to her third-period class.
“It was too much,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I was ready to go home at that point.”