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DPS foundation calls for prioritizing mental health after shootings of Durham students

Grieving the deaths of two Durham high school students this week, the Durham Public Schools Foundation called for accountability and prioritizing mental health in schools after the second fatal shooting incident near Durham schools this year.

Angel Canales and Osmar Banegas, both 16, died in a shooting late Tuesday night near Brogden Middle School. A third student was shot and injured.

Canales was a freshman at Riverside High School and Banegas was a former Riverside student and football player who attended Lakeview School.

“These are our kids,” the DPS Foundation said in a statement. “Whether you played sports with them, had a class with them, went to church with their family, shared a moment in the grocery store or waiting for the stoplight to change – this is our community, these are our neighbors, and we are accountable to one another.”

The DPS Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports policies and strategies for Durham’s public school system, according to its website.

Durham police arrested Jorge Raul Benitez-Mendoza, 18, of Durham on Wednesday evening as a suspect in the shootings.

This week’s shootings came after two students at Hillside High School were shot Feb. 8 in woods near the school. A 17-year-old boy who attended Hillside died from his injuries.

“We call on the entire Durham community – every parent, every neighbor, every leader – to join us in grief, in outrage, and in accountability,” the foundation said.

In its statement, the DPS Foundation called for the following: making mental health a priority in schools; asking lawmakers to address gun safety and gun restrictions; and demanding that the state legislature fully fund schools and support services. The district also wants to “robustly implement the practices that can prevent this kind of violence in our community.”

Hillside students create mental health group

The DPS Foundation cited Hillside High School students’ response to recent gun violence, which involved creating a group called DPS Students for Mental Health.

The group’s survey of around 650 students and community members found that 95% of the people said there should be more mental health days and more mental health resources in DPS high schools, according to the Foundation.

“We are a class of regular high school students that experienced the shooting near Hillside and Durham School of Technology on Feb. 8th, and the multiple lockdowns that followed… This made our mental health even worse than it was before,” the group said in a statement to WRAL.

As a class, we decided we want to make a change for not only our generation but also the upcoming generation of scholars,” the statement said. “We are done sitting on the sidelines asking for help. And our feelings are being pushed aside and just pushed under a rug. We are tired of our words being twisted, we are tired of being stressed, and we are tired of constantly being told to speak up, speak out and use our voice but nothing is happening.”

The DPS Foundation said it’s in talks with students, staff, families and school leaders to determine the next steps and said “to be looking out for more in April.”

“This is a time to pour care and resources into our community, a time to grieve together and to recommit ourselves to one another, our shared responsibility and our shared future,” the statement read.

As of March 18 this year, there were 11 homicides. Ten of them were fatal shootings.

READ MORE: Gun violence is a growing cause of death for children in NC, task force study finds

It’s an increase from six fatal shootings and seven fatal shootings by the same date in the last two years, according to Durham police statistics.

Fundraiser organized for Angel Canales

A fundraiser for Canales’ funeral expenses will be held this Sunday, according to a flyer shared on social media.

Plates of traditional Mexican and Central American dishes will be sold from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2914 N. Roxboro St.

The fundraiser is being organized by Immaculate Conception Church in Durham. A clergy member at the church told The N&O that the organizers declined to speak with the media out of respect for the Canales family.

A fundraiser for Angel Canales’ funeral expenses will be held this Sunday, according to a flyer in Spanish shared on social media.
A fundraiser for Angel Canales’ funeral expenses will be held this Sunday, according to a flyer in Spanish shared on social media.