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An 18-year-old has been accused of killing his 51-year-old neighbour in an effort to gain attention on TikTok.
Correctional officer William Durham died after getting into an altercation with Zachary Latham, of Vineland, New Jersey, on May 4.
The pair had a history, with Latham having first caught the attention of the Durham family in 2018 due to his ‘reckless driving’. In April this year, the teen recorded himself having an argument with Durham’s wife, Catherine, in which he continuously referred to her as ‘Karen’. The clip racked up more than three million views on Latham’s TikTok account.
The Durham family reportedly sought help from the Vineland Police Department several times, but they were told they couldn’t file a complaint because the courts were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Other residents in the neighbourhood had also contacted the police about Latham, NJ.com reports.
On May 4, the Durham family accused Latham of swerving his truck towards their son, who was on his bike at the time. Durham then used his own vehicle to block Latham’s, and Catherine later recorded herself challenging Latham over the incident.
The Durhams went to Latham’s house and found him armed with a stun gun and two knives. Both Latham and his wife warned the family to ‘get off the property’, but the Durhams reportedly refused, after which Latham fired his stun gun and swung his knife.
Durham then ‘grabbed’ at Latham, who proceeded to ‘slash him in the right arm with a knife’. Latham continued to stab the 51-year-old multiple times, including fatally ‘under the armpit, puncturing his lung’.
The 18-year-old claimed he was defending himself and that the Durhams attacked him, but the family of the deceased argue Latham initiated the fight.
The teen was charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter, two second-degree counts of aggravated assault and various weapons offences, and was released from jail in May, pending trial.
In June, the Durham family’s attorneys, Diane M. Ruberton and Robert R. Simons, wrote a letter to Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae, in which they made fresh allegations of harassment and intimidation by Latham and others.
The letter, cited by NJ, stated that Latham shared a since-deleted TikTok video on April 23 in which he held a gun and said ‘this is how you handle neighbours’.
The Durhams allege that Latham’s wife, Sarah, was recording the altercation on May 4 because she knew her husband was about to cause harm. According to them, she said, ‘I promise you, you better back up, ‘cause you’re not gonna like what’s coming out.’
The letter reads:
Sarah was recording because it was her and Latham’s intent to post these videos to TikTok and become TikTok famous. If Latham was in fear for his or Sarah’s safety, they both would have retreated inside, called police and stayed there. They did not because their intent was to lure the Durhams there, attack them and record it for TikTok.
The Durhams’ attorneys are arguing Latham should be charged with first-degree murder because his actions were purposeful, citing ongoing harassment, threats, encouraging others to harass the family, and his use of multiple weapons.
Following the altercation, Catherine was charged with fourth-degree criminal trespass and simple assault from the fight, while her sons were each charged with third-degree aggravated assault and fourth-degree criminal trespass. The letter also seeks dismissal of those charges.
Prosecutor Webb-McRae has since responded to the letter to say she was unaware of what communications had been made to her office regarding the cyber harassment allegations. She said she would investigate all of the new information provided, but did not commit to filing additional charges or dismissing charges against the Durhams.
Latham is scheduled to return to court on August 20.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
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