WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On March 11, 2014, 15-year-old high school freshman Danielle Locklear asked her step-grandfather if she could run over to a friend's house quickly, and he said okay. She was never seen alive again.
Danielle lived with her grandparents and in close quarters to her extended family, and they all began searching for her immediately, alongside her close friends and her boyfriend, Ja'Michael Malloy.
Her body was found almost a month later, tied up with rope and cinderblocks, floating down a river nearly 15 miles away from her home. The proximity of her body and the home of someone very close to her was alarming, and lead the investigators down the right road to find her killer.
DANIELLE LOCKLEAR & JA'MICHAEL MALLOY (1)
Danielle had stayed with her grandparents and extended family in the summer months in Hope Mills, North Carolina in 2013. She had made friends, and had even met a boy, posting on Facebook that the day they met was one of the best of her life.
So when her mom was going through a messy divorce, she decided to move in with her grandparents and go to school in the area. Her grandparents and extended family were extremely excited. She was a hard worker, had a green thumb, and never had a problem with getting her hands dirty.
The boy's name was Ja'Michael Malloy, a senior at a nearby high school. They met at summer camp in 2013. The families were close, and thought that while he was quiet, he was very polite and a proper young man. He played and excelled in various sports, was in the ROTC, and had dreams of becoming a sniper and an plan to join the Marine Corps after his graduation in 2014.
They dated throughout the summer, fall and winter of 2013, attending school dances, church and even weddings together. In the height of 2014 Facebook romances, she posted a "truth is" on his Facebook wall, saying he was the greatest boyfriend and she was so lucky to have him.
But like many teenage romances, it was not all sunshine and rainbows. Ja'Michael's best friend, Dominic, had become a bit of a third wheel to Ja'Michael and Danielle, and Ja'Michael was feeling torn between his 2 closest people. Around December, he started to pull away from Danielle to pay more attention to his friend. This resulted in Danielle changing her Facebook status to "complicated", with a long post about how he was not paying attention to her, and paying attention to his friends instead.
But they figured it out quickly, and by Valentine's Day, she was back to posting the loving parts of their relationship, a text she had received that morning celebrating the holiday.
Danielle was popular in school and got along with everyone. She did well in her classes, and like Ja'Michael, she was involved in her school's ROTC. So it was surprising to her family when they found out that she had ditched school to spend time at a popular, secret high school hangout by the creek on March 11, 2014.
The same night that she played hooky from school, Danielle's grandma was out of town and she was in the care of her step-grandfather. Distracted by a video game and not realizing that it was almost 10pm, when Danielle asked if she could go to her friend's house to return a book, he said yes and let her go.
When she hadn't returned home an hour later, he went to the friend's house, expecting that she had simply lost track of time. But when he got to her house, she said not only did she not come over, she wasn't expected to have come over. He called the police the next day.
Her aunt remembered, the day before her disappearance, that Danielle had told her about the secret hangout by the creek, and so she and her mom who had come as soon as she heard Danielle was missing went down to investigate.
There, they found a sinister scene: A sock that looked like it had rolled off of a foot that had been dragged, and "help" scrawled into the mud. (2) Whether the "help" was a prank or not, it was ominous, especially because the aunt knew the sock was Danielle's because she had bought it for her. (1)
Danielle's step-grandfather was scrutinized for the police. Why did he wait until the next morning to call the police. His explanation was that he thought he had to wait 24 hours to report a missing person. Though the police scrutinized him for this, when he eventually called before the 24 hour mark, they told him they couldn't do much until it had been 24 hours.
After further questioning and a polygraph test passed with flying colors, he was cleared. His family never thought he was involved in any way.
Next, they spoke to Ja'Michael Malloy, her boyfriend. During questioning, he said that they had recently broken up. He would be graduating soon to start his career in the Marine Corps, and she was only a freshman. He said they were in love, but had begun to pull apart in recent months.
He was extremely concerned about her and stayed close to the family during the searches and investigation. He had a solid alibi, studying at home for the ACT with Dominic. After his whereabouts were confirmed, the police moved on.
But when a large search party broke out and Ja'Michael came, his worried questions and supportive hugs seemed off to his aunts and grandma, who thought he seemed detached.
On April 2, 2014, an off-duty cop saw something floating in the river as he crossed over a bridge. When a team came to investigate it, they found a terrifying sight: A body, tied in yellow rope at the ankles and waist with cinderblocks in attempt to weigh her down. Her body had decomposed, which caused it to float to the top. And most sinister of all, the matching sock was found shoved in her mouth. Her official cause of death was asphyxiation, not drowning, so she was dead before she was thrown into the water.
The investigators were a bit stumped. The creek where her sock was found did not connect to the river her body was located in, so it didn't float there. Then they realized that less than a mile away from her body was the home of someone very close to her: Ja'Michael Malloy. This was enough to get a look at his phone records.
Texts revealed anything but a loving relationship or a peaceful breakup. The texts were mean and hateful, indicating an extremely messy end. One of his last texts to her was "come by the house the way I'm feeling right now and I'll shoot you with no hesitation." This hate and violence was enough to search the property.
He was calm and collected, even though he failed the polygraph test he was administered. That was until during the search of the house, they found the exact rope and blocks that were used to weigh down Danielle's body. At this point, he knew he was in trouble.
The police were on the right track, but lacked probable cause. During their investigation, they broke down the alibi. Initially, they were able to prove that their phone usage was at the Malloy's home, but it was later determined that the texts he had sent during the critical time were sent from a pre-scheduled app. He was not with his phone during that time. When questioned, Dominic lawyered up.
6 days after Danielle's body was found, Ja'Michael came in and provided a full confession.
He said that, during a fight, he drove with Dominic to her home, throwing his wallet at her window to alert her. She came outside and got in the car, and they drove to the creek to talk.
Allegedly, she told him that she was pregnant (though she was not), likely in attempt to keep him from breaking up with her. He tried to force her to take a pregnancy test. He told police that he told Danielle that he would take responsibility for his actions and raise the baby, but he wanted nothing to do with her. She got angry and began hitting him, and a physical fight between the couple broke out.
He put his hands around her neck and says he "blacked out", unable to remember what happened, but when he came to, she was not breathing. Dominic was 70 yards away and he ran to her, saying that he killed her and would need his help or else they'd both be charged with murder.
Both boys acknowledge that she was making noise after, and many believe she may have been alive during this time. Dominic, however, was freaking out and pulled her sock off and stuffed it into her mouth to stop the noises, and they dragged her to the car. They raced back to the house to get all of the materials needed, and threw her over the bridge, promising to take it to the grave.
Ja'Michael, according to police, did not get emotional when recounting the story, only when speaking about the fact that he would miss out on his opportunity to be in the Marine Corps. (2)
Ja'Michael was charged with second degree murder originally, and Dominic with conspiracy. It took Dominic an additional few days to confess after Ja'Michael's confession.
The defense attorney said that this was a situation of "kids with kid brains making adult decisions", saying that he came forward and confessed, making him a decent young man and not a monster. And that it was reasonable that it took him some time to come forward, given the stress he was under.
Her family didn't buy it: He stood with them, searching for a body he had disposed of. He asked questions about the investigation. He was pretending to mourn the life that he took.
Ultimately, Dominic plead guilty and was given 6-8 years in prison. He apologized, saying that he was sorry from the bottom of his heart for his involvement.
In 2016, Ja'Michael received a 25-31 year sentence with the possibility of parole after taking a deal and pleading guilty to first degree murder.
This isn't a popular true crime story. She didn't die in a mysterious way that was never solved. A serial killer didn't choose her at random. But this is a popular kind of crime: A boyfriend kills his girlfriend in a small town. What often captures our attention, especially true crime fanatics, is the mysterious, the unexpected, the shocking. But so much crime and abuse and murder isn't some guy who gets away with it forever or a troubled-kid-turned-killer - it is one-off crimes of passion.
Danielle Locklear was only 15 years old and had her entire life ahead of her, and was brutally killed at the hands of someone who supposedly loved her. Her story is heartbreaking and terrifying and all too common. And though many people may not know her story or have forgotten about what happened that night, her family will never forget the heartbreaking turn of events that happened 6 years ago today.
1. PODCAST: Murderous Minors // Episode 56: Heat of the Moment