The family of a deaf teen says he was killed Friday night when a gunman approached him and his deaf friends in Moreno Valley, asked them questions and began shooting as they tried to explain that they couldn’t hear him.
Najai Welch said her brother, DeSean Welch, and his friends were watching a football game at Rancho Verde High School, where the unidentified gunman approached them and began asking questions.
A friend of the dead teen pulled out a cellphone and showed it to the man in an effort to explain that they were deaf and didn’t understand him.
She said the friend wrote, “We are deaf. We can’t hear you. We don’t understand what you are saying to us.”
The gunman, she said, took the phone and typed out a message, saying he “bangs in this hood,” and then asked the victim whether he knew someone who lived in Ontario.
Her brother and friends then left the football game and entered a minivan, Najai Welch said. The group was being followed as the van drove away, she said.
At 9:56 p.m., deputies received a report of shots fired at Via De Anza and Camino San Simeon near the high school, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
When deputies arrived, they found evidence of a shooting but no victims.
At the same time, DeSean Welch’s friends flagged deputies near Lasselle Street and Iris Avenue, pleading for help because he had been struck by gunfire.
The 18-year-old Victorville teen was taken to an area hospital, where he later died, deputies said.
Najai Welch thinks the shooting was a case of mistaken identity. She said her brother was never involved in gangs or anything criminal. He was focused on sports and loved basketball, which he hoped to play professionally.
“My brother didn’t deserve that,” she said. “He was a good kid.”
News of the teen’s death left many in the deaf community stunned.
DeSean Welch was a fifth-year student at California School for the Deaf Riverside, and played varsity basketball, according to Supt. Nancy Hlibok Amann.
“DeSean was a well-loved student and a star basketball player,” Hlibok Amann said in a statement. “We are all shocked and in grief over this tragic incident.”
Memorials for the teen circulated on social media, and at least one team held a moment of silence for him during its game.
Grief counselors will be available for students and teachers who need support.
The school’s alumni association said its members were mourning the fallen teen’s death.
“We do not support any violence toward anyone regardless of their backgrounds, their actions or their characters,” the group said in a statement. “We believe anything can be resolved or find solutions. Unfortunately it did not happen with DeSean Welch.”
A family member has created a fundraiser to help pay for his funeral expenses.
Najai Welch is hopeful detectives will find the gunman.
“I just want him to turn himself in,” she said.
Anyone with details about DeSean Welch’s death is urged to call homicide detectives at (760) 393-3525.
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Sept. 21, 11 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Nancy Hlibok Amann, superintendent for California School for the Deaf Riverside.
This article was originally published at 3:45 p.m. Sept. 20.