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Teen slain in N. Philly shooting was 'full of love'

Duval DeShields weathered a long line of loss in his short life, but faced every day with a smile.

Duval Johnson in his baseball uniform and hanging out at home.Johnson was killed days after his 14th birthday.
Duval Johnson in his baseball uniform and hanging out at home.Johnson was killed days after his 14th birthday.Read moreSubmitted photo

TO HEAR his friends tell it, Duval DeShields embodied grace under pressure.

Loss loomed over him: A year after his mother died of cancer, his sister succumbed to the same illness.

It would be enough to overwhelm most adults, let alone a kid who blew out the candles on his 14th birthday cake earlier this month.

But DeShields - known as "DJ" to his friends and family - didn't let anything stop him.

"Even through all the hardships he was facing, if he saw you, he wouldn't leave until you were smiling," said Sheila Armstrong, a close family friend who watched him grow up. "If you were around him for five minutes, you'd love him, too."

Now, Armstrong is reeling, devastated by the loss of a young man who she said was an anchor in his neighborhood.

"It's just crazy; this hurt us so badly, it hurt the community so badly."

DeShields died Tuesday, a day after he was shot in the head during an argument on 10th Street near Thompson, a few blocks from his home in North Philly, police said.

Deaths at such a young age are always jarring, but DeShields' cut especially deep for his family: It came eight days after his birthday and weeks after his first day of eighth grade at Paul L. Dunbar Elementary.

Yesterday, Homicide detectives arrested Dimitrius Brown, 19, in the slaying after Brown showed up for an unrelated hearing at the Criminal Justice Center in Center City.

Armstrong said she was "relieved" to hear that Brown was in custody. And she praised the compassion and care that police showed DeShields' family in the wake of his murder.

But she was still unable to comprehend the reality of this senseless killing.

"The person they arrested is a child himself," she said. "How can a 19-year-old kill a 14-year-old?"

Yesterday, Capt. James Clark, head of the Homicide Unit, said it was unclear what the teens were arguing over, and that his detectives would get that information after interviewing Brown.

The older teen had been identified as a suspect during the investigation, and when police applied for an arrest warrant, they found he was scheduled to appear in court yesterday morning for an August theft case.

Brown, of Marvine Street near Oxford in North Philly, was arrested without incident after his trial, which was continued until Nov. 9, Clark said.

He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy and related offenses in DeShields' death, according to court records.

Last night, hours after the news of Brown's arrest circulated through the city, Armstrong broke down in tears as she remembered the boy he's accused of killing.

She went way back with DeShields - in utero, actually.

His mother, Shirline Johnson, was pregnant with DeShields while she was carrying her own son. The boys were born a few months apart.

And when cancer claimed Johnson's life in 2013, Armstrong stayed close to DeShields, who moved in with his oldest sister, who was in her 30s.

Last year, she, too, died of cancer, and DeShields went to live with his father.

Throughout these tough times, music was a refuge for DeShields.

"We knew music would be DJ's life," Armstrong said, "because even as a baby, you could see him move whenever he heard a beat."

He was a natural dancer, and in recent years, he put that talent to use helping others.

For the past two years, DeShields worked under Jaquan Fields, known better to most North Philly kids as "Quany the Clown."

DeShields was Fields' "sidekick," he told the Daily News last night, someone he could always rely on.

"He was very down-to-earth, quiet," Fields, 21, said. "But once you got to know him, he'd open right up."

DeShields started working with Fields about two years ago, dancing with him at birthday parties and other events.

Seeing people smile gave him a rush, and he looked forward to every gig they had together, Fields said.

On the day before DeShields was shot, they had a conversation about practicing, with the teen saying he wanted to push himself harder, to keep getting better at the routines they came up with.

"He really felt people; he understood them," Fields said. "I want the world to remember his smile."

People already are remembering DeShields. Hundreds gathered at the site of the teen's shooting Tuesday for a candlelight vigil, the remnants of which still stood at the intersection last night.

Yesterday, the principal of Dunbar Elementary, Dawn Morris, held a fundraiser for DeShields, with each pupil paying $1 to dress down for the day. The proceeds went to the teen's family, who is struggling to pay for his burial.

Another fundraiser will be held for DeShields on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at 10th and Master streets, Armstrong said.

"DJ was full of love, and when people hear his name, we want them to feel love," she said. "Because that's what he gave to the world."

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