DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The 18-year-old accused of murdering two teens and injuring another near a Durham middle school made his first court appearance Thursday.
It was quiet and mostly empty inside the courtroom. Jorge Raul Benitez-Mendoza appeared virtually due to court rules, but his stepsister was in attendance.
Jorge Raul Benitez-Mendoza appeared in court via Zoom, while his stepsister listened to the charges he faces in person.
"He's alleged with malice of forethought to have killed and murdered a victim by the initials of OB, another by the initials of AQ," ADA Michael Wilcox said. "He's alleged to have attempted to do the same by a victim with the initials of a JG."
Benitez-Mendoza's stepsister said he had a history of acting up as a kid but she doesn't believe he killed the two teens. She said she believes more people should be responsible for the triple shooting on Wednesday. Benitez-Mendoza is a Riverside High School student who worked part-time at a local Walmart. He has no prior criminal record.
City leaders are grieving the loss of young lives again, as more children under 18 are shot in Durham this year.
"I don't have any words because it always takes me back to my days on the bench and when I lost three kids in one week and I just sort of shut down," Mayor Elaine O'Neal said at Thursday's work session. "I've lost family members. This shouldn't be."
O'Neal said city leaders are doing their best to reduce gun violence but it's not enough. Several other gun violence advocates in the community echoed her statement.
"The culture that these kids function from promotes a lot of the violence and the criminal activities that take place in our community," Andre Hough of Reach Health Services said. "I think it's imperative that we do some things to give them some new information and some new ways to think and thereby perhaps changing the behavior of some of our youth."
Hough helped set up an event on Thursday on Fayetteville Road and Fayetteville Street to promote an end to gun violence.
"That's the emphasis, to let young people know they have a place to go," Hough said.
WATCH: Durham City Council responds to shooting
Police announced late Wednesday the 18-year-old was charged in the investigation.
Mendoza is facing two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
The investigation began around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday when officers responded to Leon Street where it was reported that a 16-year-old had been shot.
The teen's parents took him to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. The teen reported that there may have been two other people who had been shot.
Overnight, the Durham Fire Department used a drone for several hours and the Durham County Sheriff's Office sent out a cadaver dog to search the area. Two 16-year-old boys were later found dead near the intersection of Hudson Avenue and North Buchanan Boulevard, shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Family members identified one of the two teens killed as Riverside High School student Angel Canales.
This makes at least 13 people younger than 18 who were shot this year, according to Durham Police.
According to Durham Public Schools (DPS), two of the teens involved attended Riverside High and one attended Lakeview School.
Durham Public Schools sent ABC11 a copy of the email sent to parents this morning: "While we are limited in the information that we can share due to privacy laws protecting students and their families, as well as due to an active police investigation, we are saddened to share that two Riverside students and one Lakeview student were the victims of gun violence last night in an off-campus incident.
DPS counselors and support staff are available at Riverside and Lakeview to provide additional care for students and staff who have learned about this tragedy. We are committed to our schools being safe and secure places where Durham's children and youth learn, grow, and receive social-emotional support in the face of adversity.
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Police said the shooting does not appear to be random.
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