Charges upgraded in fatal shooting of WCU student

Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil in memory of Jacob Alexander Ray on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 11, at WCU’s Central Plaza.

Oct. 17, 2017, 12:30 p.m.

Law enforcement officials have confirmed that charges filed against two individuals in connection with the fatal shooting of a Western Carolina University student earlier this month have been upgraded to murder.

Aja Makalo and Zavion Southerland, both of Charlotte, were originally charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Jacob Alexander Ray along Old Cullowhee Road adjacent to campus. Ray sustained serious injuries in the incident and was transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville, where he succumbed to those injuries Oct. 9.

The incident remains under investigation, and no additional information is available at this time.

Oct. 12, 2017, 8 a.m.

Services have been announced for Jacob Alexander Ray, the Western Carolina University student who died earlier this week following a shooting incident last Friday on Old Cullowhee Road adjacent to campus.

In addition, WCU students who were friends of Ray organized a campus candlelight vigil in his honor Wednesday evening (Oct. 11) in the fountain area of Central Plaza.

A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, in the chapel of Forest Lawn Funeral Home in Hendersonville. The Rev. Dr. Tommy Smith will officiate. Burial will follow the service in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, in the Forest Lawn chapel.

Complete obituary information is available at http://www.forestlawnhendersonville.com/obituary/jacob-alexander-ray/.

Oct. 11, 2017, 9:20 a.m.

From WCU Chief of Police Ernie Hudson:

The Western Carolina University Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation are continuing the investigation into the tragic shooting that occurred Friday night. As previously reported to the community, two arrests were made within 24 hours of the incident. Also as previously reported, we do not believe that there is an ongoing threat to the campus community based on this incident. The investigation remains a top priority and is being aggressively pursued. We are actively following up on every possible lead to gather the facts and circumstances associated with this case. WCUPD, SBI, Jackson County Sheriff, NC Highway Patrol and the District Attorney’s Office continue to coordinate efforts in this investigation. There are still many investigative avenues that law enforcement is actively pursuing.

We are aware of rumors and speculation within the community regarding this incident. We would ask the community to please exercise patience and understanding about the serious nature of this event and recognize our obligation to seek justice for the victim, the victim’s family, our community and all involved in these tragic circumstances. So far, the investigation indicates that this incident was isolated and not a random act. We are certain that people understand that it is not possible for us to respond to every theory that one might imagine. At the appropriate time, the facts and circumstances will become known through the appropriate criminal justice processes.

As a community, Western Carolina University is still what it was before this incident. This type of crime is pretty uncommon to our community here in the mountains, but we are not immune to it. I can assure you that the law enforcement partners have come together and are working tirelessly to bring this case to a conclusion. Unfortunately, that takes time – much more time than the four days since this incident occurred. As we have asked throughout the last several days, if you have any information regarding this case, please contact WCUPD at 828-227-7301. Thanks.

Oct. 10, 2017, 10 a.m.

Law enforcement officials have confirmed this morning that Jacob Alexander Ray, the Western Carolina University student who sustained serious injuries in a shooting incident late Friday night, has succumbed to those injuries.

Friends of Ray, a junior from Hendersonville majoring in computer information systems, are planning a campus candlelight vigil in his honor. It is set for 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, at the fountain area of Central Plaza.

Staff members from the Division of Student Affairs are in contact with the family and will share additional information about funeral arrangements when it becomes available.

“The entire Western Carolina University community mourns the loss of such a promising young life,” said Chancellor David O. Belcher. “We offer our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Jacob Ray during this unimaginably difficult time. Jacob Ray will always be a Catamount.”

Oct. 9, 2017, 3:45 p.m.

NOTE: Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher sent a message to the campus community Monday afternoon about the weekend shooting of a WCU student. That message appears below.

Dear WCU Campus Community:

As many of you are aware, a tragic and violent incident occurred over the weekend on our campus that has grievously injured one of our students. Two individuals, one of whom also is a WCU student, have been arrested in connection with this situation. There is some misinformation and rumor about this incident being circulated on social media and other outlets; however, please remember that the situation is fluid and the investigation is active and ongoing. The WCU news site contains all the accurate and current information. This site will be updated regularly as needed.

Staff from Student Affairs will communicate and reach out to students regarding support services that are available. I ask that we all be patient and compassionate under these very trying circumstances. Our campus team, particularly the University Police, is doing excellent work, and we will endeavor to update the campus as appropriate.

Please keep all those involved in your thoughts.

Sincerely yours,

David O. Belcher

Oct. 8, 2017, 10:23 a.m.

NOTE: Below is a statement from the University Police Department:

The Western Carolina University Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation have confirmed the arrest Saturday of Zavion Southerland of Charlotte, North Carolina, on a charge of attempted murder in the shooting of a WCU student late Friday night. The arrest was made by the SBI in Gastonia. Mr. Southerland, age 17, is not affiliated with WCU and is being held without bond at this time.

The shooting occurred around midnight along Old Cullowhee Road adjacent to campus. WCU student Jacob Alexander Ray of Hendersonville sustained serious injuries in the incident and was transported directly to Mission Hospital in Asheville, where he remains in very serious condition.

WCU Chief of Police Ernie Hudson said the investigation developed very rapidly and has been continuous since the incident occurred. “The investigation is continuing to develop, with many details and investigative leads being pursued,” Hudson said.

Hudson continued to express appreciation to all of the law enforcement agencies involved in working toward a resolution in this case. This has included the SBI, Jackson County Sheriff Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and other agencies in the jurisdictions where the suspects went after the incident.

Oct. 7, 2017, 8:15 p.m.

The Western Carolina University Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation have confirmed the arrest Saturday of Aja Makalo of Charlotte, North Carolina, on a charge of attempted murder in the shooting of a WCU student late Friday night. The arrest was made by the SBI in Charlotte. Ms. Makalo, age 19 and a current WCU student, is being held under a $500,000 bond.

The shooting occurred around midnight along Old Cullowhee Road adjacent to campus. WCU student Jacob Alexander Ray of Hendersonville sustained serious injuries in the incident and was transported directly to Mission Hospital in Asheville, where he remains in very serious condition.

No additional information is available at this time, said WCU Police Chief Ernie Hudson. “The investigation has been developing throughout the day, but law enforcement agencies are still actively pursuing many investigative avenues,” Hudson said.

Hudson expressed appreciation for the efforts of the SBI, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the entire WCU Public Safety team. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department was instrumental in locating a vehicle thought to be involved in the situation, he said. “A lot has been accomplished in the investigation to this point, but there is still much to do,” said Hudson.

University officials said they could not comment on the specifics of the incident or the charges, pending the outcome of the criminal case and other possible on-campus judicial action involving WCU’s Student Code of Conduct.

“We continue to keep Jacob in our thoughts and prayers, as well as his family and the families of everyone involved,” said WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher. “This incident has shocked and devastated people all across the WCU community and has reminded us that, even in a peaceful place like Cullowhee, tragic things can still occur. I am confident in the ability of our campus family to come together and support one another in times like these.”

Further details will be made available as the investigation continues.

Oct. 7, 2017, 5:15 p.m.

University Police have identified the individual injured in the shooting. He is 21-year-old Jacob Alexander Ray of Hendersonville. He is reported in very serious condition at Mission Hospital.

Further details will be posted as they become available.

Oct. 7, 2017, 10 a.m:

University officials report that a shooting occurred Friday night along Old Cullowhee Road adjacent to campus. A student sustained serious injuries in the incident and was transported directly to Mission Hospital in Asheville.

Police believe there is no ongoing threat to the campus community as a result of this incident.

University Police are conducting an investigation with the assistance of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, which initially responded to the emergency call, the State Bureau of Investigation and the N.C. Highway Patrol. Law enforcement officials are searching for a black passenger vehicle, which may be occupied by two heavy-set black males, one of whom may be wearing a baseball cap. No further description or information is available at this time. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Western Carolina University Police Department at 828-227-7301.

Chancellor David O. Belcher issued the following statement:

“We are deeply saddened by the news that one of our students was grievously injured in a shooting late last night near campus. Our university community is shocked and distressed, and our thoughts and prayers are with the injured student and his family and loved ones. The safety of our students is of paramount importance and violent acts such as this affect us all. The WCU police are doing everything they can to find those responsible. We will provide additional information to the campus community as soon as it becomes available.”