ORANGEBURG — Annie Mae Williams sat in shock, watching the phone. She wanted it to ring, prayed it would ring. She wanted her son’s voice to be on the other end of a call that would never come.
“That didn’t happen, and that made me think it was true,” she said.
It was April 24, 2010, when Williams was visited by a law enforcement officer. And another man.
“I got this knock on the door,” she said. “When I saw the coroner, I knew something was very wrong. I offered for them to take a seat. And they said, ‘No, I think you need to take a seat.’ And my heart just dropped.”
The officials informed Williams her son, Rodney Allen Williams, had been struck by a vehicle in Columbia early that morning. At 32 years old, her son was gone.
“I just didn’t know what to think,” Williams said. “I thought that maybe they made a mistake, maybe it wasn’t Rodney.”
As word spread, Williams’ remaining children began arriving at her Orangeburg home. Each of the four daughters arrived, then her remaining son.
But no Rodney. And the phone remained silent.
Investigators say earlier that day, Rodney was walking along an entrance ramp to Interstate 77 at the Bluff Road interchange near Columbia. His body was found by the road.
Tina Bonaparte says her brother was a soft-spoken, well-mannered man.
“As a child he was always quiet,” she said, smiling at a childhood recollection. “He was so quiet, mom took all of us to the grocery store and when we left, we left him.”
At Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, Rodney was a member of the band and had joined a choir. In his adult life, he developed a knack for cooking, which would sometimes develop into some friendly competition with his sister.
With his birthday the day after Christmas, he would tease his family, saying they just held back his gifts until his birthday party. But none of his birthday presents ever had Christmas paper wrapping them.
“We were a close-knit family,” Tina said.
Williams said her son occasionally brought her breakfast in bed and mowed the lawn of the widowed neighbor next door. There was also the elderly lady down the street he’d accompany to the grocery store.
On his last day, Rodney had been in Columbia helping a friend move into a new residence.
Although he was a quiet person, Rodney’s absence from the family home that April day sounded like a crescendo. As the hands on the clock moved slowly forward, the stillness of the Williams residence remained unbroken as the phone remained silent.
To keep Rodney’s spirit alive, Tina and some friends have created three $250 scholarships to be awarded to three Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five high school graduates on April 24 — the day Rodney died.
The scholarships are named in Rodney’s memory and will go to students who have demonstrated they have served their community as Rodney once did.
“It just means that his name will continue in a positive light,” Tina said. “It’s taking something that’s dark and bringing some positive light to it.”
Organizers hope to raise the money for a $5,000 scholarship to be awarded when Rodney’s case is solved.
Investigators say Rodney was last seen at a nearby store. The moment he left that store was the last moment anyone ever saw him alive again. He had apparently been struck by a vehicle and left.
Meantime, the family waits to know what happened. In three years, there has been no word, no leads. The phone at the Williams house remains silent.
“As a family, we’re not angry,” Tina said. “We really just want them to tell us what happened.”