Man charged with fatally shooting 7-year-old boy riding in car with mom, brothers

HICKORY, N.C. — Police have arrested the man they say opened fire on a car Wednesday night in Hickory, killing a 7-year-old boy.

Channel 9 confirmed Friday that Douglas Wilson has been charged with murder after 7-year-old Zakylen Greylen Harris was shot and killed along Tate Boulevard SE in Hickory.

Catawba County 911 dispatchers received a call just after 11 p.m. about a drive-by shooting.

When police got to the scene they found 7-year-old Zakylen, who had been shot in the neck. He was rushed to Catawba Valley Medical Center where he later died.

The boy was riding in the car being driven by his mother. His younger brothers, ages 6 and 1, were also in the vehicle, according to police. They were not injured in the shooting.

The suspect vehicle was described as a small, dark-colored SUV that was speeding east on Tate Boulevard SE with possibly several people in it. Police said a white woman with blonde hair may have been in the front passenger seat.

During a news conference Thursday morning, the chief of police called the shooter a coward, and promised that his department would do everything possible to find those responsible.

On Friday, police held another conference where they announced that Wilson had been charged with murder in connection to the shooting.

“Yesterday I asked for your help and we got it,” Hickory Police Chief Thurman Whisnant said.

Whisnant credited the arrest to the information received from the public and work done by officers.

Zakylen’s aunt, Tiffany Gray, fought back tears as she showed Channel 9 photos of the 7-year old at the family’s home telling us he was smart, loving and a charismatic child with a bright future.

“It’s absolutely devastating because he will not see a high school graduation, prom ... he won’t go to college. He could have been a doctor, astronaut who knows the sky was the limit,” she said.

[WATCH the full news conference below]

Police said surveillance video showed the moments leading up to the shooting. In the video, you can see the mother’s car turn on to Tate Boulevard and then the suspect’s car appears.

The boy’s mother told police she believes this was a case of road rage but detectives said they are investigating all possibilities. She also told police she did not know the people in the other vehicle.

The mother said she turned her blinker on and accidentally cut off the other vehicle as it approached on the right side in the outer lane. That’s when the suspect vehicle pulled alongside and a woman in the front passenger seat started yelling something out her window.

The mother told police she didn’t hear a gunshot but saw the muzzle flash and saw that her back window was broke. She then realized that her son had been shot in the neck and immediately called 911.

“She says she cut the person off -- not intentionally, but cut them off,” said Hickory PD Capt. Jeff Young. “She heard yelling and then the suspect vehicle comes around her in the left lane. She says she didn’t hear a shot but she saw a muzzle flash.”

Investigators said the mother thinks someone may have reached around the woman in the front passenger seat and fired the shot.

“It’s tough,” said Hickory Police Chief Thurman Whisnant. “Someone out there knows what happened. This is a senseless act of violence, there is no excuse for this. I can tell you this, that the men and women of the Hickory Police Department will work tirelessly to see that justice is brought to the coward who did this.”

Earlier Thursday morning, Channel 9′s Dave Faherty could see police, who had a portion of the roadway blocked, using a metal detector in the grass as they looked for the shell casing.

Wilson appeared in court Friday morning and asked the judge that Channel 9′s camera not be allowed in the courtroom. The judge denied the motion. Wilson also said that he has a felony probation hearing in Tennessee in May.

According to police, Wilson was arrested Thursday night at a hotel on unrelated warrants out of Catawba County. After being interviewed, Wilson was charged with first-degree murder in Wednesday’s shooting.

Channel 9 spoke with a woman who said she grew up with Wilson.

“I couldn’t believe it. An innocent child. No mother, father should have to endure that pain,” she said.

Extra counselors were brought in to Southwest Primary, where Zakylen Harris went to school. It is also the same school attended by a brother and sister who were killed in a house fire in February.

“It’s a child. This young boy, we consider him one of our babies, and he is an innocent child. The loss of a child is probably the most horrific thing we can ever hear in our journey in life,” said Beverly Snowden with Hickory Public Schools.

Mother Holly Gooch told Channel 9 that her son was in Zakylen’s second grade class.

“It’s sad, it’s very sad. Especially when you have someone who is the same age. My heart breaks for the mom and you want to hug your baby closer,” she said.

There will be a vigil for Zakylen on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Exodus Missionary Outreach Church.

Zakylen Harris is the second 7-year-old on our area to die this week after being shot. Gabrielle Jones died after being shot inside a home in Gastonia.

Search warrants show that her uncle, Jeremy Lewis, was filming a rap video when he fired the gun. The bullet went through a wall, hitting the girl in the head. She was taken to the hospital but died days later.

And an 8-month-old girl is improving after she was shot in Shelby two nights ago.

Police said strangers outside her home on Putnam Street were fighting when someone fired a gun. One of the bullets hit the child as she slept with her mother.

That mom told Channel 9 that her daughter is off a feeding tube and doing better.