By Nomaan Merchant
MESQUITE — Neighbors and friends knew Shania Gray as a friendly, vivacious athlete. Few knew the 16-year-old had reported a man for rape until she disappeared last week and turned up dead.
The man she accused, Franklin B. Davis, has confessed to police and in jailhouse interviews to killing her. Police have said he did so to prevent Gray from testifying against him in a sexual assault case scheduled for trial next month.
Davis, 30, who lives in the Dallas suburb of Irving, has been charged with capital murder in her death and is being held on $2 million bail.
Gray’s family was in the process of moving from one Dallas suburb to another so that her father could be closer to work, said Sherry Ramsey, a close family friend.
Neighbors in Mesquite, where the family lived for years, described Gray as friendly and caring. Hundreds of people turned out Monday night for a candlelight vigil at the high school she attended until this fall.
“Every time she saw me come in, she would get my attention to say hello,” Peggy Mitchell, who lived next door to Gray’s family, said Tuesday. Mitchell said she often saw Gray outside, playing basketball on a bent hoop in the family’s driveway.
Ramsey described Gray as a “social butterfly” who never left Ramsey’s home without giving her a hug. Gray also cared for a younger brother who has autism, she said. “I was in awe at the relationship,” Ramsey said. “She was like a second mother to him.” Ramsey and another family friend said few peop she disappeared.
Gray’s mother, Sherry James, contacted Mesquite police in April 2011 to report that Davis had sexually assaulted Gray while she was babysitting his children, according to a police affidavit released Tuesday.
Gray told an investigator that Davis — whom she called “Wish” — had exposed himself and had sex with her four separate times between January and March, the affidavit said. Family friend Nina Adams said Gray didn’t tell anyone what had happened at first because Davis threatened her.
“She started making up stories as to why she didn’t want to babysit,” Adams said. Eventually, the teen told her mother and grandmother, Adams said.
Davis was arrested in July 2011 and charged with four counts of sexual assault to a child. His trial was scheduled for next month, and police in Carrollton, the suburb where Gray began attending school last week, said Gray had been expected to testify.
A spokesman for Carrollton police and spokeswoman for Gray’s new school district said no threats against her were reported before her disappearance.
A spokesman for Mesquite police did not return multiple phone messages. According to relatives and an affidavit released by Carrollton police, Davis posed as a teenage boy on social media and bought a new cellphone to contact Gray and get information about the sexual assault case.
The two exchanged text messages Thursday, though Carrollton police spokesman Jon Stovall said he didn’t know how many. Adams said Gray’s mother told her that Gray received a text message Thursday saying her Facebook friend was waiting outside her new school as a surprise.
Davis told Carrollton police Gray was surprised to see him but got into his car because he wanted to discuss the case. He told police and several television stations that he drove her to an area near the Trinity River and shot her twice.
He then stepped on her neck until she stopped breathing, the affidavit said. Her body was found two days later.
Davis told television station WFAA in a jailhouse interview that Gray had agreed to recant the sexual assault allegations, but he still attacked her.
He said the sexual assault case had taken a toll on him. “I was fighting with my demons for a little over a year, and it got too much,” he said. “I couldn’t … pretty much no one was safe around me. My mind was on a whole another level.”
But Ramsey and others say there’s only one person to blame for Gray’s death. “He took away an extraordinary young lady,” she said. “He really did.”