During an interview with Matthews police after his arrest on a first-degree murder charge, Jatwan Craig Cuffie said the deadly fight in a Butler High School hallway Monday morning followed a fight in a Harris Teeter parking lot Friday night.
Cuffie, a 16-year-old high school freshman, has been charged in the death of Bobby McKeithen, who was also 16. Police say he shot and killed McKeithen around 7:15 a.m. in a crowded school hallway.
Butler students had no classes Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday will be their first day back, and the Matthews Police Department announced Wednesday afternoon that it will have an increased presence at Butler and other schools in town in the aftermath of the shooting.
In his police interview, Cuffie said McKeithen punched him in the hall and then he pulled out a gun and shot him, according to his arrest documents.
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Cuffie brought the gun to school for protection, he told Matthews police, because he had been involved in a fight Friday night with other teenagers.
Shortly after the shooting, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said it may have been related to bullying.
Police and CMS officials have refused to provide more information about what role bullying may have played. Citing student privacy laws, CMS declined to discuss reports of bullying related to Cuffie or McKeithen, including whether either student had ever been identified as a victim or perpetrator of bullying.
The term “bullying” is not used in the narrative of Cuffie’s interview with police.
During the Friday night fight, one of the people fighting Cuffie pulled out a knife, he told police.
Cuffie and his friend ran away when the knife came out, he said. He said McKeithen “saw everything,” according to the arrest documents, but he is not mentioned as one of the people physically involved in the Friday night fight.
Later in the weekend, a friend of the teen who allegedly had a knife texted Cuffie to ask who he thought had won the fight, Cuffie said, according to arrest documents.
Cuffie said to ask McKeithen, who said the teen with the knife won the fight, according to the arrest documents.
A friend told Cuffie that one of the teenagers who fought him Friday was planning to fight him at school, Cuffie told officers.
Early Monday morning, Cuffie “went to the woods to get his gun for protection” and put it in his pocket, according to the documents.
Matthews police said Tuesday that the gun that shot McKeithen was stolen in August from a car in Gaston County, the Observer reported.
The arrest documents also say Cuffie didn’t think the bullet struck McKeithen, and he was going to shoot again but ran away instead, according to his police interview.
He ran into a classroom and told his ninth-grade math teacher what was going on, the documents state.
“She asked him where the gun was and he told her (it was) in his book bag,” according to the documents. “And she moved the bag away from him.”
Cuffie told police that soon after that, officers arrived to arrest him.
Cuffie’s neighbors, Edgar and Theresa Townsend, visited his family’s house after the shooting, bringing food.
They described Cuffie as shy, quiet and sweet. They said he was often alone walking in the neighborhood.
Edgar called him a loner, but they said he was quick to offer greetings to neighbors. He helped neighbors often cut their grass or took out their trash, the Townsends said.
A judge decided Tuesday that Cuffie will be held in Mecklenburg County Jail without bond. His next hearing is Nov. 7.
In response to an Observer query about Wilcox’s references to bullying in two Monday news conferences, CMS Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ replied that “early reports indicated that the incident may have involved some of these types of behaviors. Experts believe that these behaviors contribute to violence. CMS defers to law enforcement on the investigation and for final findings.”
The district defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”
Neither the district nor the state tracks fights, on or off school grounds.
In April CMS introduced a digital system, called “Stand Up Speak Out,” that allows students, employees and others to anonymously report bullying and check the status of the complaint.
Russ said CMS has received 284 reports so far this year, though he did not respond to the Observer’s request for a breakdown by school.
“We field all kinds of concerns including, but not limited to, Title IX harassment, conflicts, and bullying,” Russ said by email. “These concerns are each investigated by trained CMS staff and followed up on for support as appropriate.”