WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Detectives are still looking for answers in the first murder of 2019 almost a year later.
Newly released surveillance video shows what happened right before Zalleux Johnson, 18, was shot to death in the Creekwood community on Feb. 21, 2019.
Whether it was a game of basketball or checking on the younger kids in the neighborhood, Yolanda Hayes said her son was always doing something at the Creekwood Learning Center.
“He would go up there every day to the community center and work with the kids and play games with them,” Hayes said.
“He was a leader,” Johnson’s sister Nila McBride said. “He had a lot of people looking up to him.”
Hayes said it was a place where her son wanted to do something right to make a difference in the Creekwood community.
“That was just him,” Johnson said. “He was just a loving person. He wanted to make sure everyone was Ok.”
On Feb. 21, 2019, that was the same place where everything went wrong.
“My best friend’s sister slung the door open and said come one you gotta come on it’s ZJ,” Hayes said.
Sgt. Myron Irving with the Wilmington Police Department said shots rang out in the 700 block of Emory Street just after 11 p.m.
“I remember jumping in the truck and going down the street and seeing him laying on the ground,” Hayes said.
Johnson was laying on the ground right next to the Creekwood Community Center.
“All I could do was just call him, just call him like I was angry, because I’m just like ZJ just get up. I want him to get up. I’m just like come on I’m calling you like if he hears me, he’ll get up,” Hayes said.
Z.J. never got up.
“I just remember his arm falling and it was just like my soul left my body,” Hayes said.
That is when detectives started looking for a murder suspect.
“When we started retracing the steps, we know that the victim was hanging out with some friends,” Irving said.
Sgt. Irving said surveillance video shows Johnson and his friends at the Prince Mini Mart about 30 minutes before they went to Creekwood.
“It looks like maybe they’re on their cellphones,” Irving said.
Irving says that could be where it all started.
“At the store, there was some type of Facebook live video that may have prompted some animosity possibly towards some rival gangs.”
Sgt. Irving said there are some gang ties, but he cannot say that Johnson was a validated gang member.
“ZJ was never in the live video, never arguing with anybody,” Hayes said.
Sgt. Irving says it is possible the gun shots might not have been intended for Johnson.
“I think Zalleux was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time you know possibly with the wrong people,” Irving said.
Now, he says the people who were at the scene will not talk.
“Some of these witnesses even had to duck and dodge bullets,” Irving said. “We would have loved for them to have been a little bit more cooperating and telling us what they saw.”
Hayes said these witnesses were Johnson’s friends.
“That hurts more than anything because it was so many people out there,” Hayes said. “You know what happened. Like my son is gone forever. and It was so many people that knows who was arguing what the problem was.”
Hayes said they want to retaliate instead of talk.
“It’s all about ‘Oh we just want to do it ourself. We want to get this person ourself,'” Hayes said.
She said two wrongs do not make a right.
“That’s not justice,” Hayes said. “Justice for me is looking this person in the face who killed my son and saying I forgive you, because you have a mother that could easily be your mother’s pain. I know how it feels and I don’t want another mother to feel like that.”
Johnson might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she said it is time for someone to do what is right.
“Be brave like he was. He was so loyal to people. He was a good kid. Be brave, like do something for ZJ,” Hayes said.
Because ZJ was trying to do something right to fix what was going wrong in that same place.
“Whatever you have to do, if you have to text a tip, whatever you have to do to get the word out about what happened,” Hayes said.
If you have any information about this case, please call Wilmington Police or use text-a-tip to remain anonymous.