Friends, social media give insight into teen killed in Northlake Mall shooting
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Jonathan McFadden and Adam Bell/The Charlotte Observer) - On social media, Daquan Antonio Westbrook went by the name "Donkey Cartel."
His persona was that of an up-and-coming rapper who posted his beats and lyrics on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
His musical repertoire included songs with titles such as "No Hook," "Pac" and "Got it out the mudd."
Friends say Westbrook, 18, longed for recognition and stardom. But now he's dead after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say he pointed a gun at an off-duty officer, who shot him.
Police say Officer Thomas Ferguson fired the shots that killed Westbrook at Northlake Mall on Thursday after an argument between two groups of people escalated with gunshots.
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney told reporters late Thursday that at least two people involved in the dispute pulled guns and opened fire on the mall's lower level, near Dick's Sporting Goods.
As hundreds of Christmas Eve shoppers ran for cover, police working at the mall responded. Putney said witnesses told police that when Ferguson reached the scene, one of the gunmen turned and pointed his weapon at the officer.
Ferguson, a 19-year police force veteran, fired his service weapon, and Westbrook was pronounced dead on the scene, police said.
The incident drew national and social media attention, yielding hashtags, such as "Northlake Mall" and "ripDonk," that became trending topics on Twitter.
Speculation about what motivated the fight has been rampant on social media. Manny Sadek, a videographer who produced Westbrook's music videos for the last two years, believes it could be connected with an incident on Thanksgiving, when Westbrook's brother was shot. That brother, whose nickname is "Wop," continues to recuperate in the hospital.
"After that situation, things got a little more heated," Sadek, said. "I felt like something was coming but I didn't know what."
Friends upset by the media's portrayal of Westbrook, who arrest records show had a lengthy criminal history involving drugs and guns, jumped to his defense. Others condemned a widely shared photo of Westbrook's slain body on the mall floor.
Briana Wright was one of them.
She and Westbrook grew up around each other. Westbrook, who had another nickname, "Dada," was known as a "goofy little brother" who tried to make others laugh.
"He was a good guy," Wright said. "We were all just put in situations … we had no control over. He didn't deserve to lose his life and have his picture broadcast through all avenues of social media."
Sadek said his friend "was becoming a better man."
When Sadek first met Westbrook, the aspiring rapper was 16, in and out of trouble with police, and sporting two ankle bracelets, Sadek said.
But over time, Westbrook's rocky past gave way to his "strong heart" and raw talent, he said.
"He got a job, got off both ankle bracelets and was turning his life around," Sadek said. "People don't understand that level of hip-hop. (Music) was his way of venting his life and frustrations."
Westbrook was part of a group of north Charlotte musicians dubbed "Cartel Music Group," Sadek said. Many of their videos can be found on YouTube.
Westbrook, who last shot a video with Sadek on Wednesday, was also an expectant father.
"That was his main, main concern," Sadek said. "Every year, he was progressing to be a man. He's not a thug (or) criminal. He wasn't going to the mall to shoot up the mall."
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