Gun violence hits home in Cullowhee

WCU student Jacob Alexander Ray of Hendersonville was was injured in the incident and died on Monday, Oct. 9. Photo from his father, Victor Ray, in a Facebook post.

News update (Oct. 10, 1 p.m.)

The death of Jacob Ray was confirmed by law enforcement officials at 10 a.m. the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 10. He passed away the night of Monday Oct. 9.

Ray was a junior in the College of Business studying computer information systems. Staff members from the Division of Student Affairs are in contact with the family and will be sharing additional information about funeral arrangements when it becomes available.

A candlelight vigil has been planned for Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the fountain area.

WCU student Jacob Alexander Ray, 21, was shot in the head just off of WCU’s campus the evening of Friday, Oct. 6.

According to a Facebook post from his father, Victor Ray, this morning at Mission Hospital of Asheville, he was taken off of a ventilator due to an absence of brain activity. The university has not been given an official notification that the injured student has passed away according to Bill Studenc, Director of Communications and Public Relations at WCU.

Without a clear answer to who pulled the trigger yet, two people have been arrested on the charge of attempted murder.

WCU student, Aja Makalo, 19, was arrested on Saturday night by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) in Charlotte. Her bond is set to $500,000. The second suspect, Zavion Southerland,17,  was arrested by the SBI in Gastonia on Sunday. Southerland is not affiliated with WCU and is  being held without bond at this time. 

“This incident has shocked and devastated people all across the WCU community and has reminded us that, even in a peaceful place like Cullowhee, tragic things can still occur. I am confident in the ability of our campus family to come together and support one another in times like these,” said Chancellor, David Belcher, in the official statement on Sunday, Oct. 8.

Two arrested suspects, Zavion Southerland (left) and Aja Makalo (right)
Photo courtesy of WLOS

WCU Chief of Police Ernie Hudson said the investigation developed very rapidly and has been continuous since the incident . “The investigation is continuing to develop, with many details and investigative leads being pursued,” Hudson said. The statement from the WCU campus police also said that all of the law enforcement agencies involved are working toward a resolution in this case. This has included the SBI, Jackson County Sheriff Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and other agencies in the jurisdictions where the suspects went after the incident.

In an effort to support the Ray family in this difficult time, a GoFundMe fundraiser page has been created to aid in the medical costs and memorial fund.

WCU has notified faculty who had these students in their classes and reached out to CAPS in order to provide any needed counseling support. According to Brian Boyer, an event to honor Jacob Ray is “in the works” and information will be shared when the plans are finalized.

In the aftermath of the shooting, here is a chronological recap of the encounter and what has been released about the ongoing investigation so far.

Many students, faculty, and locals first heard of the shooting through a series of emails issued by WCU’s Public Safety Team with the first subject line reading, “Disturbance- Person Injured.” Disclosed in the first email was the location of the disturbance near Tuck’s Tavern, just off of campus as well as the injury being the “result of firearm or being struck by a vehicle.” The email concluded for recipients to avoid the area.

The second email disclosed one new piece of information- “The vehicle involved may be occupied by two black males, heavy set with one wearing a ball cap.”

The third of the emails confirmed to the public that the injury was, in fact, from a firearm and that the vehicle with the suspects of the crime had left the area. The rest of the email asked for any information to be directed to WCU Police and listed suggested precautions.

Immediately following the shooting that occurred around midnight, Ray was transported directly to Mission Hospital in Asheville.

Responding strongly in a full-blown investigation were the University Police, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, which initially responded to the emergency call, the State Bureau of Investigation and the N.C. Highway Patrol.

According to an official statement to WCU’s website:

“On Saturday at 8:15 p.m, The Western Carolina University Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation have confirmed the arrest Saturday of Aja Makalo of Charlotte, North Carolina, on a charge of attempted murder in the shooting of a WCU student late Friday night. The arrest was made by the SBI in Charlotte. Makalo, age 19 and a current WCU student, is being held under a $500,000 bond.”

According to WCU Police Chief, Ernie Hudson, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department was instrumental in locating a vehicle thought to be involved in the situation.


The latest in official statements from the university came on Sunday at 10:23 a.m.

A second arrest was made Saturday of Zavion Southerland, 17, of Charlotte on the charge of attempted murder in the shooting that occurred late Friday night.

The arrest was made by the SBI in Gastonia. The report continued to say, “Southerland is not affiliated with WCU and is being held without bond at this time.”

Further details into Ray’s condition have since been shared from his father, Victor Ray on Facebook. In his first posting at 1:33 Saturday afternoon, he explained that the shot sustained by his son was located “in the back of his head.” He continued to explain that the bullet was lodged in Jacob’s brain and they will not know anything until he came out of a coma.

The beginning of a second post on Sunday evening read, “This will be our son Jacob Ray’s last night on this evil world.”