Friends of Daquan Antonio Westbrook say he longed for recognition and stardom.
The 18-year-old Charlotte man, who used the name “Donkey Cartel” on social media, had the persona of an up-and-coming rapper. He posted his beats and lyrics on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, where he sang about guns, women, shooting people and prison. And he had a long criminal record.
But few knew his name until Christmas Eve.
In a crowded Northlake Mall packed with last-minute shoppers Thursday afternoon, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said, an argument between two groups of people escalated with gunshots. One of the gunmen pointed a weapon at an off-duty officer who had responded to the gunfire, police said. The officer shot Westbrook, killing him.
The shooting and the chaos at the mall was covered on network news broadcasts, on national websites and lit up social media, yielding hashtags such as “Northlake Mall” and “ripDonk,” that became trending topics on Twitter. Northlake was forced to close for about half a day on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
As police continue to sort out what happened, more is being learned about Westbrook.
Speculation about what motivated the fight has been rampant on social media.
Manny Sadek, a videographer who produced Westbrook’s music videos for the past two years, believes it could be connected with a Thanksgiving incident, 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.”
On Thanksgiving night, Westbrook took to Twitter to ask people to pray for his brother, and added, “Love U big Bra. Everything gone be good Wop.”
Inside the north Charlotte mall Thursday, at least two people involved in the dispute pulled guns and opened fire on the mall’s lower level, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney said. Witnesses said the gunfire started outside of the Journeys shoe store near Dick’s Sporting Goods, and some said they heard as many as 10 shots.
As hundreds of panicked shoppers scrambled for safety, off-duty police officers working at the mall responded. Putney said witnesses told police that when off-duty Officer Thomas Ferguson reached the scene, one of the gunmen turned and pointed his weapon at the officer.
Ferguson fired his service weapon, and Westbrook was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
A 19-year CMPD veteran, Ferguson was placed on paid, administrative leave, which is standard procedure after officer-involved shootings.
A police spokesman could not be reached for comment Friday.
Westbrook’s arrest record detailed a criminal history since 2013 that involved drugs, guns and stolen property, and listed addresses in Charlotte and Gastonia. His most recent arrest stemmed from a Nov. 14 incident that led to misdemeanor drug charges, records show.
Westbrook also faced trial on felony counts from incidents in April, September and October, including charges of possession of a firearm by a felon, possessing a weapon on educational property, possession with intent to sell/deliver marijuana, and aiding and abetting larceny. And he faced trial on several misdemeanor drug charges.
In 2013, Westbrook received probation after a felony conviction of possession of stolen goods/property.
‘A good guy’
Friends upset by the media’s portrayal of Westbrook jumped to his defense. Others condemned a widely shared photo of his body on the mall floor. Briana Wright was one of them.
She and Westbrook grew up around each other in Charlotte. Westbrook, who had another nickname, “Dada,” was known as a “goofy little brother” who tried to make others laugh, Wright said.
“He was a good guy,” she 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.”
Westbrook’s mother told WSOC-TV her son attended Gaston Community College and wanted to work in construction.
Sadek said his friend “was becoming a better man.”
When Sadek 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.
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.”
Police said the shooting was not a random act of violence.
Shortly after 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Westbrook took to Twitter and posted that he was going to work all weekend because “Santa Clause Ain’t payin’ no Bills.”
At 9:14 a.m., he tweeted out a link to one of his videos, “223 Freestyle,” where he sang, “When them guns cock you better duck b-----.”
Referring to some of the lyrics in Westbrook’s songs, Sadek said, “People don’t understand that level of hip-hop. (Music) was his way of venting his life and frustrations.”
Westbrook’s tweet linking to “223 Freestyle” was his final post.
Five hours later, at 2:10 p.m., police received a call about the shooting.
Westbrook’s mother, Charlotte resident Sheana Shirley, had posted links to her son’s various videos on her Facebook page.
She returned to Facebook shortly before 2 a.m. on Christmas Day with a clear message. She berated people “that wished that on my baby. I do know my baby in heaven.”
Researcher Maria David contributed.