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Winston-Salem police continue investigation into fatal shooting of WSSU student on Wake Forest campus
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Winston-Salem police continue investigation into fatal shooting of WSSU student on Wake Forest campus

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Najee Ali Baker

Baker

A Winston-Salem State University football player was fatally shot early Saturday morning at a party at Wake Forest University, authorities said.

Najee Ali Baker, 21, died at a local hospital as a result of his wounds.

Baker, who transferred to WSSU in March 2017 from Dean College in Franklin, Mass., was a walk-on defensive lineman for Winston-Salem State’s football team who redshirted this past season. He is from Brooklyn, New York.

“I was shocked when I got the call and as a coach you never want to get this kind of call,” Coach Kienus Boulware said. “I spoke with Najee’s father, and it’s a tough call to make to let him know that his son won’t be coming home.”

Police responded to the shooting at 1 a.m.

In an email message to Wake Forest students and faculty members Saturday, WFU President Nathan Hatch said Baker was shot during a fight at a party in The Barn. The Barn is a building on campus that is the site of concerts, speakers and various events. Student groups chartered by the university can use The Barn for free.

Investigators say students from Wake Forest and WSSU attended the party on Wake Forest’s campus, which was hosted by the Pi Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, according to a spokeswoman.

Officials from both universities said they are working together to support students affected by the crime.

WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson issued a statement Saturday afternoon about the shooting.

“Mr. Baker was a promising young man. It is truly a tragedy that his life was cut short in an act of unnecessary and senseless violence,” Robinson said. “It is times like these that remind us of the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing one another.”

Police say there’s no reason to believe the shooter remained on campus and that the incident appears to be an isolated one. No further details will be released at this time, said Lt. Mike Cardwell of the Winston-Salem Police Department.

Hatch said police are increasing security and patrols on WFU’s campus and in the surrounding area.

Noah Watkins, a sophomore at Wake Forest, said he woke up Saturday morning to a flurry of texts and calls. After hearing about the incident, he began to call his friends who had been in the area of the shooting.

“It was jarring to think how easily one of them could have been at the party where the shooting took place,” said Watkins, who had gone to bed early Friday night. “I had been asked to join them and was extremely on the fence. While I wouldn’t have been at the location of the shooting, knowing in hindsight that it was a possibility at all fills you with anxiety and questions.”

Watkins said the mood on campus was different Saturday morning, with urgent chatter and unanswered questions about the fatal shooting.

“It was a strange mix of people being bewildered or anxious at the situation and angry or confused as to why the suspect had not been apprehended,” Watkins said.

He said he saw one student who had been at the party telling some of the cafeteria workers how crazy and scary the situation was.

“Then suddenly another Pit (cafeteria) worker came up from around the corner and embraced the student,” Watkins said. “He must have known her, and as they hugged the other worker said, ‘She was there last night, man. She was there. Thank God.’”

Detectives are continuing to interview witnesses and investigate the incident as people struggle to grapple with the loss of a fellow student.

Baker, who played one season of football at Dean, a private college with about 1,400 full-and part-time students, committed to play at WSSU in 2017. His major was physical education.

Boulware said Baker likely would have had a chance to be a contributor on the defensive line this fall.

He said the WSSU team will meet at the Bowman Gray Stadium fieldhouse to talk about what happened. Counseling services will also be available.

“We are all really shocked by this because he was a quiet guy and a great teammate,” Boulware said. “We knew him as a kid who was laid back and quiet, and he never gave us an ounce of trouble. This is just a tough time for all of us at Winston-Salem State and not just the football team.”

Robinson said it’s important that the WSSU community understands that safety is a shared responsibility and that people must come together in times of tragedy.

“As a Ram family ... we must support one another, uplift one another and care for one another through the coming days,” he said. “I encourage you to take advantage of resources if you are in need of support during this time of mourning.”

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Winston-Salem police at 336-773-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800.

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