Woman Working to Free 16-Year-Old Charged with Murder for Killing the Man Who Allegedly Abused Her

Deanna Watson: Joann Thompson Fighting to Free 16-Year-Old Charged with Murder
Deanna Watson (left) and Joann Thompson

07/22/2015 AT 12:20 PM EDT

Joann Thompson has never met 16-year-old Deanna Watson, but right now she's one of the only people who stands between the teen and a potential lifetime in prison for killing a man who allegedly beat her and her siblings repeatedly.

"The system failed those kids," Thompson tells PEOPLE. "I just had to do something to help her."

Deanna was arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina, on July 15 for allegedly stabbing her mother's boyfriend, 36-year-old Omar Dunbar, to death. Police charged her with murder and she's currently being held on a $1 million bond while she awaits her next court date.

But Deanna has claimed that she was just defending her little brother from Dunbar, who had allegedly dragged the boy out of bed and down the stairs earlier that day, family friend Kamela Friday told The Charlotte Observer. When Deanna tried to stop him, Dunbar spit in her face. He was killed during an argument afterwards.

Ashonda Dunbar, Dunbar's wife, slammed the allegations against her late husband, telling the paper, "What's being portrayed is not him. That's all I'm going to say."

But this wasn't the first time that Dunbar had allegedly gotten violent with the kids. The week before the stabbing, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police responded to three separate domestic violence complaints at the home, authorities confirmed to WBTV. Police did not return PEOPLE's request for comment.

And neighbors have said that the Department of Social Services had been investigating the family prior to the stabbing, though the organization would not confirm to PEOPLE that a case exists due to privacy laws.

An Unofficial Advocate

The story resonated with the 43-year-old Thompson, a retired veteran living in Statesville who first saw Deanna's case on the local news the night the teen was arrested. "With this paper trail of domestic abuse that's been going on for years, you want to lock this child up?" says Thompson. "That's a little harsh, isn't it?"

The high bond especially infuriates her. "I was livid. This is a 16-year-old child under a million-dollar bond," she says. "That does not make sense!"

So Thompson decided to become Deanna's unofficial advocate. She set up a Fundly account in the teen's name and started researching lawyers on her behalf.

"She's just a child," Thompson says. "This is very traumatizing for her. She doesn't have an attorney at all, and we don't want to see her sign something she doesn't understand."

She adds: "That's another reason why I want to help her. She doesn't have a voice. She has to have a voice."

Deanna continues to garner community support. On Sunday, neighbors gathered behind her apartment, passing out fliers and raising money in her defense, WSOC reports.

"As a community we have to stand up for our youth, and she don't deserve this because she was taking care of her siblings. She fought for her siblings," said neighbor Valerie Huntley.

Right now, Deanna is being held in the juvenile section of an adult correctional center in North Carolina. But Thompson hopes to see her released before her 17th birthday next month.

"We want her home by then," says Thompson. "She has suffered enough."

And maybe then, Deanna can finally meet the woman who's become her strongest champion.

"I hope to meet her," says Thompson. "She needs to know there are people actually supporting her. She is not alone."

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