Suspect in girl's murder surrenders

The search for a 19-year-old wanted in connection with the murder of a 14-year-old girl ended overnight.

Police say Vanessa Hines turned herself in to police late Thursday night and is Mecklenburg County Jail this morning, charged with murder in the shooting death of Ashante Mayfield on Tuesday.

Hines had been the subject of a search for more than 48 hours before she surrendered without incident.

Mayfield had spent the last two of her 14 years shuttling among foster parents and group homes, as well as older friends who helped her evade authorities and family.

On Tuesday, a dispute among those friends led directly to her shooting death, some of them said Thursday.

Ashante had been asked to house-sit for a friend of 19-year-old Vanessa Hines. Ashante refused, and that touched off a feud that ended in Tuesday's gunfire, friends said.

Hines is the only suspect in Ashante's death – one of six homicides of young people under 18 this year in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Ashante was shot while in a car with friends on Catherine Simmons Avenue on Tuesday. As bullets shattered the rear window, three of Ashante's friends got out and ran toward Beatties Ford Road. On Thursday, they spoke with the Observer about their friend.

Ashante looked and acted older than her age, they said. Then again, she'd been through more than most 14-year-olds. She had a son, Christopher, six months ago – with a man in his late 20s, friends said.

Her family says she was out of control and they gave up custody when she was 12. Ashante hadn't had a stable home since.

She had run away from two foster families and two group homes in Charlotte. Her last disappearance was on July 2.

When she ran away, she relied on a network of friends who often gave her food and a place to stay. Ashante's baby lives with her grandmother in Lincoln Heights.

The girls she lived with were usually older, but they said a funny and talkative Ashante never had trouble fitting in. “She didn't look 14. She didn't act 14,” said Vianca Moffett, who was riding in the car.

One person who had given Ashante a place to stay said she didn't know the girl was 14 until she saw it on the news Tuesday.

A petty dispute

Over the past seven weeks, Ashante flitted from place to place on Charlotte's westside – a friend's grandmother's house in Clanton Park, an apartment in the nearby Roseland complex.

That's where the dispute with Hines began, said Chastity Morris, who was driving the blue 1980s Camry on Tuesday. A friend of Hines wanted Ashante to house-sit while she was at work. Ashante refused and an argument escalated to a fight. Ashante was kicked out and went to stay with another group of friends.

But the feud, which Morris called trivial, lived on.

When Ashante and Hines saw each other Tuesday, they got into a fistfight on the northwest Charlotte street, Morris said. Dozens gathered to watch.

After the fight, Hines left, then came back with a gun, Morris said.

After the first bullets struck the rear window, Morris said she tried to speed away, but mistakenly put the car in neutral. When she got the car into drive, she rammed it into a truck in front of her Camry.

After the crash, the women got out of the car and ran.

Ashante was the only one hit by bullets. She died at a hospital within a half-hour.

“I had blood all on my hands, on my pants and on my shirt. Everyone thought I had got shot because I had blood everywhere,” said Domnique Staton, who was riding in the back seat with Ashante. “But I knew it wasn't from me.”

Officers believe Hines fled on a CATS bus.

DSS defends actions

Ashante spent the last two years of her life as a ward of the Mecklenburg Department of Social Services.

DSS “is deeply saddened by the loss of this young life,” Director Mary Wilson said in a statement Thursday.

“We have reviewed the facts of this matter and are confident that any relationship with Ms. Mayfield was handled consistently with the policies and procedures of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Mecklenburg County.”

Representatives from two private group homes where Ashante stayed declined to comment on her case, citing state confidentiality laws that prohibit releasing information about applicants for social services.

Hope Youth Services, which operates a mental health home called Hollis House, reported her missing May 19. Jody's Place Group Home reported her missing Aug. 4, 2007.

Two former foster parents also declined to comment Thursday, although one said she stopped accepting foster children after Ashante ran off in March 2007. The other foster parent reported Ashante missing Oct. 6, 2007.

Ashante spent the last four days of the 2007-08 school year at Sedgefield Middle School. Before that, she attended Hawthorne High School, a CMS alternative school, and was in the Dolly Tate Teen-Age Parents Services program there for teenage mothers, said CMS spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte.

The school system had begun the process for transferring Ashante to another school for eighth grade but had not yet selected the school, Stalberte said.

Monday would have been her first day.

Instead, her family plans to bury her Saturday.

Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.