Well, it’s a start. Though many are crying, too little too late:
Memorial service staged to unite community
By J. Eric Eckard
Rocky Mount Telegram
Sunday, April 25, 2010
At a Sunday night event set to honor the victims of a suspected serial killer linked to at least 10 deaths over the past seven years in the Twin Counties, Jackie Wiggins was supposed to talk about the purpose of the tribute.
She looked out at the crowd of about 150 people gathered at Church of God of Deliverance in Rocky Mount and said she’d let the attendance speak for her.
“The fact that you all gathered with us — that is our purpose,” said Wiggins, who daughter, Jackie “Nikki” Thorpe, was one of the victims in the investigation that includes local, state and federal agencies.
Wiggins also is the president of Parents and Relatives of the Missing and Murdered, a group organized in 2009 and made up of the victims’ families and friends.
The Sunday night tribute, put on by PROMM, featured the Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP. Barber gathered representatives from law enforcement, victims’ families and the City Council together on stage to let “the whole world know we are united.”
“I’m more than moved by the courage of these parents and family members,” said Barber, who stood with Andre Knight, city councilman and president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Barber’s sermon focused on the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil. Barber likened the sinful woman in the Bible with the victims in this case, most of whom were linked to drug use and prostitution before their deaths.
“But they’re still human beings, and tonight, we dignify them,” Barber said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re ladies of society or ladies of the street, violence and murder is wrong.”
Barber also talked about Maya Angelou, former poet laureate, who worked briefly as a prostitute as a teenager. Barber said Angelou was able to rise above her stint in that life, while the missing and murdered in the Rocky Mount will never reach their potential.
“We don’t know what these women could have become,” he said.
During the two-hour ceremony, family members lighted a candle for each of the 10 murder victims and two missing women who are feared dead. They spoke briefly about their loved ones before lighting the candles.
Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight and Rocky Mount Police Chief John Manley also spoke during the event, ensuring the victims’ families that investigators are taking the deaths and the investigation seriously. About a year ago, the sheriff announced a task force investigation into the similar deaths of several Rocky Mount women.
“To the families, your cries have not been unheard,” Knight said. “Things have happened during the investigation that we haven’t been able to share.
“Although we couldn’t share, it didn’t mean I didn’t care.”
Law enforcement officers still are working the case, Knight said, and local investigators are expected to meet with FBI officials today “about some things that have come up.”
Antwan Maurice Pittman has been charged with one of the victim’s deaths — Taraha Nicholson — and authorities said he’s a person of interest in at least five of the other murders. The 31-year-old Rocky Mount man is charged with first-degree murder in Nicholson’s death.
Pittman, a registered sex offender, was arrested in September, and authorities said his DNA was found on Nicholson’s body.
So far, the bodies of Nicholson, Thorpe, Jarniece Hargrove, Christine Boone, Ernestine Battle, Denise Williams, Elizabeth Smallwood, Roberta Williams, Melody Wiggins and Travis Harrison have been found in wooded areas northeast of Rocky Mount. Two others — Yolanda “Snap” Lancaster and Joyce Renee Durham — are reported missing.
Two weeks ago, 100 N.C. National Guard soldiers helped law enforcement officials and volunteers search for victims along Seven Bridges Road, where five women already had been found.
“We can’t write these cases off,” Manley said Sunday night. “Any one of them could have been any one of us. And every one of them has value and meaning.”