Celebratory gunfire leaves bullets in Durham, Hillsborough homes

January 3, 2019
WRAL First Night Raleigh

First Night Raleigh wasn’t the only place in the Triangle where people were firing off guns to celebrate the new year.

Maria Lopez said a bullet came through the roof of her Hill Street home in Durham late Monday, hitting her boyfriend, who was asleep beside her. The couple had gone out for a New Year’s Eve dinner and were home in bed when the gunfire started at about 11 p.m., she said.

“I heard a loud bang – sounded like a crash – and saw, like, a flash of light,” Lopez said Thursday. “My boyfriend just startled, woke up and said, ‘What was that?’ and he told me he thought I slapped him across the back because he felt a really sharp pain.”

Lopez said she flipped on the light and noticed the bullet hole in the ceiling after seeing some debris on the bedroom floor. She said the bullet must have ricocheted off a wall, slowing it down before it hit her boyfriend.

“I examined him – no marks, no bruises, no blood, so I was very grateful for that. He said it just felt like a really sharp pain,” she said. “We didn’t find the bullet until we moved the sheets over, and then a bullet just rolled onto the floor.”

A Hillsborough family returned home from vacation Wednesday to find a .45-caliber bullet had pierced through the siding, insulation and interior drywall and wound up on the steps outside a girl’s bedroom, according to police. Investigators said the downward trajectory of the bullet clearly indicates someone fired indiscriminately into the air.

“For me, as a police officer and just as a person, it’s always a scary thing because somebody could have been hurt over something so stupid,” said Lt. Andy Simmons of the Hillsborough Police Department. “When you fire that bullet, you are responsible for it until it comes to its final resting place.”

Kaitlyn Kong, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wasn’t as lucky.

Kong, 22, was celebrating the new year with her roommate at First Night Raleigh when she was hit by a bullet that someone had fired into the air downtown shortly after midnight. She had to undergo a four-hour surgery to repair her internal injuries and is now recovering at WakeMed.

Even though Lopez’s boyfriend wasn’t hurt by the bullet that hit him, she said she’s shaken.

“I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I grew up hearing my fair share of gunshots but never had the experience of one going through my roof,” she said. “I’ve just been playing the scenario over and over in my head, just thinking, what if went through the window? It could have hit my dog. It could have hit me. It could have hit my boyfriend directly while he was sleeping.”

She now has a message for those who fire a gun without knowing where the bullet will land.

“Everything that goes up must come down, and unfortunately, it could come down on somebody and injure them or even kill them,” she said. “It seems like a lot of people just say, ‘Oh, this is normal, happens every holiday,’ but it shouldn’t be something that’s normal.”

Lopez said the incident has inspired her to be more active in the community, and she might even go to talk before the Durham City Council about the issue.

“I feel like something needs to be done or there has to be stricter consequences for doing this,” she said.

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