The accounts of a botched drug deal in February vary widely. But police and prosecutors agree on the most crucial point — who among the six teenagers involved fired the shot that killed 17-year-old Nathan Paul.
Yet it’s another Quincy teenager, 18-year-old Jaivon Harris, who has been behind bars since a few days after Paul’s death, the only person arrested so far in the case. Although he is not accused of shooting Paul and police did not recover any weapon belonging to him, Harris was indicted on murder and larceny charges earlier this month and sits in solitary confinement as he awaits his next arraignment.
The alleged gunman, Keniel Diaz-Romero, an 18-year-old who fled to Puerto Rico after the shooting, has also been indicted in Paul’s murder but remains at large. The other four teenagers have not been charged.
Based on testimony from one of the teenagers, Harris is accused by prosecutors of yelling “Shoot him!” when Paul tried to hit the group with his SUV, just before Diaz-Romero fired two shots at the car. A spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said it’s too soon to know whether prosecutors will try to prove that Harris is guilty of murder by joint venture — by aiding or assisting in the shooting — or using another theory.
Authorities have not released the names of the other suspects because they are juveniles or were at the time of the crime. Although investigators reviewed evidence placing at least four of the six teenagers at the scene of the shooting — and all six near the scene of the robbery — the district attorney’s spokesman said he is not at liberty to discuss juvenile offenses unless the person has been charged with a felony as a youthful offender. Juveniles older than 13 charged with first- or second-degree murder are tried as adults.
Harris’s mother said she is furious that her son is being held without bail while the other boys involved are free. Her son is the only one of the six teenagers involved who is Black and it is not a coincidence, she says, that he is the only one sitting in jail.
“I feel like my back is against the wall. There’s absolutely no support,” said Tayla Mayo, 37, in an interview from a church near her Quincy home. “It’s supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but it seems like because Jaivon is 18 and he’s Black, they’re just going to stamp the guilty on him and move on to the next case.”
The district attorney’s spokesman said the investigation into Paul’s death is active and ongoing. In a statement, Morrissey said murder charges “are always handled differently than other charges and given priority,” but declined to specify why the other teenagers have not been charged in connection to the robbery, citing the ongoing investigation.
A senior at Weymouth High School, Paul was beloved by family and friends, a standout athlete who hoped to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall. His death rocked the community, and an online fund to cover his funeral expenses raised more than $30,000 in a matter of days.
Paul’s relatives declined to comment, but his father, Gregory Paul, said in February he was heartbroken.
“I’ve been feeling like my system dropped,” Paul’s father told NBC Boston days after the shooting. “Like if someone came and cut my hand off with a knife, I wouldn’t feel any pain.”
A police affidavit filed shortly after the murder is the primary public record of events. The other teenagers provided divergent versions of the robbery to investigators, creating a timeline jumbled by contradictory details.
But some aspects are clear. Paul’s brother told investigators that during the COVID-19 pandemic, he and Paul began selling “zips,” or 28-gram packets, of marijuana to friends and acquaintances to make some extra money. Eventually, they expanded to THC bars: single-use cartridges similar to a vape pen.
On. Feb. 15, the night Paul was shot, one of the younger teenagers messaged him on Snapchat asking to set up a drug deal, according to the affidavit. In addition, cellphone records show that two of the teenagers who have not been charged were texting about “fake bills” as early as a month before the robbery, planning to trick Paul with counterfeit money.
“The preliminary review of communication indicates [the four boys who have not been arrested] were all present or aware of the plan to summon the victim to the area and take THC bars from him,” State Police Trooper David DiCicco wrote in his affidavit. “They were all present at/or around the time the victim was robbed and killed.”
Paul met the group of teens in the Germantown neighborhood of Quincy, where he gave them THC bars in exchange for several $100 bills. When Paul realized the cash had “play money” printed on it, he tried unsuccessfully to chase the group down.
Later that evening, Diaz-Romero, Harris, and at least two of the other teenagers regrouped near the scene of the drug deal. Paul, who had remained close by, spotted them and “almost hit them with his car,” the affidavit stated. That’s when — according to one of the younger teenagers — Harris cried out and Diaz-Romero fired two shots toward the Toyota Highlander. Paul said, “I’ll be back,” before driving away with a bullet in his leg, crashing his car less than a mile down the road.
Internal bleeding from the wound killed him within hours, and Paul was pronounced dead that night.
Texts between two of the younger teenagers indicate the group stole a total of five boxes of THC bars, none of which were found in Harris’s possession. Two days after the shooting, the grandmother of one of the younger teens called police to report that she found drugs at her house, which police determined to be “consistent with those found in the victim’s vehicle,” according to the affidavit.
By the time police and prosecutors began to piece together what happened, Diaz-Romero had quit his job at the local supermarket and fled to Puerto Rico, with only a letter left behind telling his mother not to look for him, according to the affidavit.
A grand jury indicted Diaz-Romero on charges of murder and larceny earlier this month. The district attorney’s spokesman said authorities “have engaged local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the combined effort to locate Mr. Diaz-Romero” but did not provide details on the search.
Harris’s arraignment in Superior Court is scheduled for July 22. A high school junior, he is being held without bail in solitary confinement at the Dedham jail, according to a correction officer there.
“The first thing he said to me when he got there was, ‘Mom, can you get my login for school?’” Mayo said. “But Jaivon is in a segregated housing unit where he’s locked in his cell for 20 hours a day. He’s not allowed to go to school. He’s not offered any mental support or counseling. I send letters, but he can’t write back because he doesn’t have a pen.”
Harris’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
Until Diaz-Romero’s indictment, Harris was the only person named in the case. As a result, those who see Harris as solely responsible for Paul’s death have tormented the family, Mayo said. Two of her three younger children have received expletive-riddled Snapchat messages from strangers, warning them to watch out and letting them know they “ain’t safe” anywhere.
In late March, Mayo’s 16-year-old son was playing at the South Shore YMCA when an older teenager pulled up to the center in his car and repeatedly beat her son with brass knuckles, according to a Quincy Police Department report.
Several weeks later, in early May, her son was jumped by three older teenagers while riding his bike, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Weymouth police. The teens punched Harris’s brother in the eye before stomping on his bike and spitting on him, the report said.
Meanwhile, Mayo said she regularly sees several of the other teenagers who officials say were involved in the robbery playing sports or riding bikes around the neighborhood.
“These other kids are still hanging at the Y, or at the mall, living their best lives. Not a care in the world, not bothered, but why should they be?” Mayo asked. “No one knows they were involved. Those kids are fine, they’re protected. Mine aren’t.”
Mayo said that even as she fights for her son, she feels frustrated that any of these boys became involved with drugs in the first place and thinks often of the Paul family and their grief over a life lost so young.
“My heart breaks for Nathan’s family and for his mother. We’re not supposed to bury our own kids,” she said. “Of course they would and should want justice, but let it be the rightful people.”