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Boy stabbed was 'just protecting his mom'

George Hunter and Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — Barbara Whitehead stood outside her house, where her 12-year-old son was stabbed early Tuesday morning, arm wrapped warmly around the youth's shoulder.

Deonté Turner suffered a flesh wound in the attack and had stitches, but is otherwise fine, his mother said.

"I'm just so glad he didn't get hurt worse," Whitehead said, surrounded by cameras and reporters Tuesday afternoon at their home on Radnor, on the city's east side.

Deonté, clad in a gray flannel shirt and knit hat, spoke little. But his mother praised him as brave.

"He was just protecting his mom," she said.

Mother and son were returning home about 1:30 a.m. with her sister-in-law, Veronica Burnett, and Burnett's daughter, Daria, who were spending the night.

When they pulled up in the driveway in a Ford Windstar van, Whitehead said, three people approached — possibly from behind a nearby abandoned home — and demanded money.

Responding that she had none, the three became angry and started using profanity, which spurred Deonté into action. Police said one when one person produced a knife, Deonté jumped in front of his mother. That person "started flinging it," the seventh-grader said, so he put his arm out.

The boy said he was "scared for a minute," but his mother said: "I don't think he was. He wanted to help his mom. … At that time it was just more adrenaline — trying to protect his mom."

Detroit Police officers stop by a home Tuesday, March 17, 2015, on Radnor on the city’s east side, following a 12-year-old boy's stabbing after he jumped in front of his mother to protect her.

The trio of attackers fled on foot, Detroit police officer Nicole Kirkwood said earlier Tuesday. Whitehead said the group took off immediately once she and her son cried out that he'd been hurt.

Dolunt said police didn't get a call until nearly four hours after the incident. The mother tried to administer first aid before calling police, he said. "I don't know why they waited that long," he said. "What that kid did was amazing."

Whitehead said she rushed her son inside and wrapped his arm to "stop the bleeding a little bit," then raced him to the hospital by 2:15 a.m. The initial concern at the time wasn't calling police, she said. "I'm trying to get to my son, I'm trying to take care of my baby."

The incident alarmed Whitehead, who also has two other sons, age 1 and 10, and had just moved in about two months ago. "We got to stop all this — robbing folks and taking stuff from people," she said.

Small property crimes, including arson, are common in the neighborhood, next-door neighbor Terry McSwain said. Violent crimes, such as stabbings, have been rare in the 16 years he has lived in his home.

"There's always something going on around here but nothing too major ... nothing like this," he said.

The block on Radnor is dotted with abandoned and burned-out homes, set back from the street.

The neighborhood used to be home to city and county workers, said neighbor Charlene Broaden, 57. Then squatters moved in and crime rose, including drug-related incidents, she said. "I've been here 13 years and my house has been burglarized two times and they came back two more times and tried to get in," she said.

But Broaden said she was surprised to hear about a stabbing on her street. "As bad as (the neighborhood) looks, it's getting better," she said "They're knocking down the burned-out homes."

Broaden said she did not hear anything out of the ordinary early Tuesday, but she often hears sirens from emergency crews on their way to nearby St. John Hospital.

Jim Grenwick, president of the Cornerstone Village Community Association that includes the 5500 block of Radnor, said violent crime is not typical in the neighborhood.

"There has been some other drug activity and typically when it gets warmer, we're going to see more people coming in to squat in the houses because they don't need heat," he said.

Grenwick, who has led the community group for about three years, said the stabbing early Tuesday hits close to home.

"I live down Radnor and we patrol this area and we look for suspicious things going on," he said. "But there really was nothing to identify this house."

Grenwick said he does not know the victims of the early morning attack, but he commended the boy for stepping up when his mother was in danger.

"The young man is heroic. He did the right thing," Grenwick said. "He didn't need instruction to try to protect his mom and that's a good thing."

Neighbor Al Stevens, 59, said he was up most of the night because his sister-in-law was ill. He lives directly across the street from the home where the stabbing took place.

"I didn't hear or see anything, which is why I can't understand what happened," he said.

Stevens said residents often deal with crimes like breaking and entering, but violence is uncommon.

"I've been here three years and I haven't had a minute's worth of trouble," he said. "We've never had anybody approach us or say anything out of order to us."

Detroit News Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.