Months before she was shot dead on a northwest Charlotte street, Ashante Mayfield's family says she ran away from a state-licensed group home.
She would call home occasionally, saying she was safe and staying with friends, but that she had no plans to return to a more restrictive group home setting.
The last time her family heard from Ashante was a few days before she died. She wouldn't tell her grandmother where she was, but the 14-year-old said she wanted to get some pictures of her 6-month-old son, Christopher.
Her family says it gave up custody and turned Ashante over to the Mecklenburg Department of Social Services about two years ago, saying she was out of control.
She had spent time in group homes and with foster parents during the past year, but continued to run away, according to police records. Now her family members wonder why authorities didn't do more to prevent their daughter from running away, or track her down before she was killed.
“She wasn't in New York, she wasn't in California, she was right here in Charlotte,” said her aunt, Deborah Mayfield. “Her mother tried to get help for her. Social Services is supposed to help you out when you have children and need help.”
A Department of Social Services spokesman declined to comment on Ashante Mayfield, citing privacy laws they say apply even though the 14-year-old is dead.
Group homes are privately run and licensed through the state. Generally, DSS takes minors who are victims of child abuse or neglect and places them in group homes if it decides that's the best place for them, said department spokesman Darrell Cunningham.
If a child goes missing, group home staff is required to alert a social worker, and DSS then contacts the CMPD Missing Persons Unit.
Police have investigated five missing persons cases involving Ashante since March 2007. The last was July 2, when a social worker reported the girl missing. Seven weeks later, Ashante was dead.
Gunfire, and a suspect flees
Police and witnesses say there was an argument between four or five young women on Catherine Simmons Avenue, off Beatties Ford Road, around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Police said they don't know what started the fight, but it ended when a woman fired a gun into a late-1980s blue sedan.
Police have been searching for 19-year-old Vanessa Hines – their only suspect – since the shooting. They described her as 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds. She had red braids and was wearing a red shirt and capri pants when last seen, officers said.
Officers said she may have gotten away on a CATS bus headed away from uptown on Beatties Ford Road. Police believe a man at the scene helped her get away. The gun used in the shooting also is missing.
“Whoever did help this suspect get on the bus, didn't help anyone in any way, shape or form,” said CMPD Spokesman Robert Fey. “To think that that person knew what happened to that girl, just 14 years old. It's just disgusting. It's reprehensible.”
A family loses control
Ashante was born in Charlotte and raised in a one-story brick house off Statesville Avenue that has been home to five generations of Mayfields.
Her grandmother said she was bright, even something of a teacher's pet, although she had to repeat the first grade. But as she got older, her family says, they found it harder to control her.
She'd run away for days, sometimes packing a suitcase, other times disappearing with little warning. Before she was a teenager, she was pregnant.
Shortly after that, her family says, they turned her over to DSS. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools says she attended Sedgefield Middle School a few days last year and was being reassigned to another school.
On Wednesday, the family placed flowers and a wreath on a fence near Tuesday's shooting. But for most of the day, they sat in the backyard, sharing stories and planning to bury Ashante near her great-grandmother's grave in Oaklawn Cemetery.