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Police: WCU shooting victim knew accused student, was possibly involved in drug activity

Jacob Alexander Ray, 21, of Hendersonville, suffered serious injuries after the shooting along Old Cullowhee Road on Friday night. (Photo credit: Victor Ray)

Six search warrants returned to the Criminal Court Clerk's office in Sylva reveal that Western Carolina University police believe that WCU student and shooting victim Jacob Ray knew fellow student Aja Makalo, one of two youths charged with his attempted murder.

The warrants also indicate that police think that Ray, 21, of Hendersonville, was involved in drug activity.

Ray suffered serious injuries after a shooting along Old Cullowhee Road on Friday night and was taken to Mission Hospital. Family members said they made the decision to take him off life support on Monday.

Aja Makalo,19, and Zavion Southerland, 17, are currently charged with attempted murder in the incident.

There is a fundraiser for his family's medical and funeral expenses here.

According to District Attorney Ashley Welch, police are still searching for a motive in the deadly shooting, and possibly additional suspects. Warrants do not indicate who police believe fired the gun at Jacob Ray, though both Makalo and Southerland are charged with attempted murder.

Welch would not say exactly when charges will be upgraded to murder, but said those charges are expected to be filed in the next several days or weeks, and the investigation remains open.

Despite the fact there were witnesses at the crime scene, Welch said police are still trying to determine where the shooting took place. Welch would not state where Ray was found, but a memorial with flowers has been placed on Old Cullowhee Road near the campus.

A key piece of information appears in the conclusion of the warrants by Assistant WCU Police Chief Steven Lillard: "Based upon my training investigating violent crimes, the suspect is typically known to the victim."

Warrants also state that Charlotte police believe they saw blood on Makalo's shoe when they found her with her damaged car in Charlotte, and that "Jacob Ray had been shot by what appeared to be occupants of a black vehicle, and it appears the victim may have been acquainted with the suspects, due to the victim possibly being an occupant of the vehicle prior to this incident."

Below are highlights from six warrants related to the investigation:

1. From a October 7, 2017 Search Warrant for Aja Makalo's phone records from October 1-8:

  • The warrant states that it appears that "(Ray) may have been acquainted with the suspects due to the victim possibly being in the car prior to that night."
  • On page 7, "a plastic portion" was missing from the back window area of Makalo's 2009 Chevrolet Impala.

2. In a search warrant for Ray's car, police state that "It was also determined through those interviews that the victim, has been involved with the sale of controlled substances in the past and information was gained..." "that the victim recently had controlled substances in his possession. This indicates the victim probably has controlled substances and/or paraphernalia in his vehicle."

Also, police seized "1 shell casing" and "1 cell phone" from Ray's car. It's important to note it's unclear if the shell casing has been fired.

3. From a search warrant for Aja Makalo's car, located in Charlotte after the shooting:

Items seized include a toboggan, swabbings, "green plant material," a gel lifter, and a car door. The warrant states Ray was shot on Old Cullowhee Road, just off the WCU campus.

Friends of Jacob Ray's say they are planning a campus candlelight vigil in his honor.

It is set for 9 p.m. Wednesday at the fountain area of the university's Central Plaza.

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