Mother’s Day will never be the same for five Lowcountry women.
These mothers say they are still searching for justice and answers years after the deaths of their children. For them, it is not a joyful holiday.
Terry Wylder of Goose Creek was almost too emotional to speak last week of her loss. She slouched over in a chair at Missionary Empowerment Baptist Church with her hands clasped together and cried as she prayed.
“People just don’t understand,” she said, continuing in almost a whisper, “losing your child who’s your best friend, and who you look for to call you day and night, sending you little text messages all the time or bringing you a Pepsi and Reese’s every night. That boy was everything to me. That’s my baby.”
Kareen Wylder’s body was found just before 5 p.m. Oct. 12, 2012, in the passenger seat of his SUV outside the post office on McMillan Avenue. The 31-year-old had been shot five times, according to his mother.
His is one of 152 unsolved tri-county homicide cases since 2001. Like Wylder, the majority of the victims — 120 — are black. Of 729 total homicides in the past 14 years, 502 of the victims were black.
A new group called Blind Justice formed recently to bring attention to the large number of unsolved killings of minorities, which its members believe is due to discrimination and unequal resources allocated to the investigations. The group touts justice for all, regardless of race, religion or income.
In the vast majority of the years since 2001, statistics show cases involving white victims cleared more often than cases involving black victims, but a University of South Carolina professor who analyzed the data cautioned that the numbers didn’t necessarily translate to racism or discrimination.
“You can have a disparity without being unfair or unjust,” said Robert Brame, adding that a number of factors come into play, including the strength of evidence and witness cooperation.
At least five mothers involved in Blind Justice whose children were killed over the years gathered at the church in North Charleston a week ago to share their stories and their pain. Arrests have been made in only one of the killings.
Beverly Wilson Grant of North Charleston said all she wants is to know why someone gunned down her only son.
John Wilson, 22, was fatally shot about 3:30 a.m. July 24, 1999, while riding a bicycle on Target Street in North Charleston. A pair of men were questioned a few days after the killing. Since then, the only thing she’s heard from police is that maybe her son was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“His anniversary day is coming up and it’s really hard, really hard,” she said, grasping a portrait of Wilson taken during his time in the Navy. “I’m still looking out my window hoping I’ll see him one day, always. And I relive that day every Saturday morning.”
She said she continues to pray every day “that God will touch whomever’s heart that they will give themselves up.”
“I can’t bring him back, but I just want to know why,” she said.
Joyce Singleton Johnson, also of North Charleston, said her only son was also shot to death.
The Hanahan Police Department found Hari Ashon Singleton’s body about 2:30 a.m. May 28, 2007, outside Remount Garden restaurant and initially said the 21-year-old’s death was a drug deal gone awry. Later, police said there was no evidence drugs were involved.
Lt. Michael Fowler said Wednesday that there were “no real leads” in the case and that police didn’t know the motivation behind the crime. Now a cold case, he said no one has looked at the file in two years.
“Our staffing really doesn’t allow us to do that much with cold cases,” he wrote in an email.
Frustrated, Johnson said she has since hired a private detective.
“Hanahan hasn’t been very helpful,” she said. “These are lives that are important, they may not be important to the rest of the world, but these are our children.”
She said she wishes witnesses would come forward.
“It’s left a gigantic hole in our life,” Johnson said of her family. “When you lose a child or a family member, you can’t repair that.”
Most of the mothers, all of whom are black, said they didn’t feel their child’s case was getting a fair shake from police.
“I feel that race and class has a lot to do with solving crimes,” Johnson said. “Some crimes get more attention than others.”
Grant agreed and said she feels her son’s cold case has just been thrown aside by the North Charleston Police Department.
“I just think the city should be doing more,” she said. “There were times that I would go over to the city hall and they (didn’t) know who the detectives were handling the case. There was one time I went over there and they couldn’t even find the file.”
Wylder contends that North Charleston police know who killed her son but refuse to keep her in the loop.
The Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comments about its cases, other than to email a police report.
There have been two arrests in the murder of Tamika Myers’ daughter, but she said not everyone involved is being held accountable and she isn’t satisfied.
Sierra Denise Truesdale was shot on her 23rd birthday after getting caught in the crossfire between a gang known as the Get Money Cowboys and partygoers at Starlite Lounge nightclub in St. George. About 17 shots were fired, Myers said, and at least 500 people were present to witness the shooting.
Myers wants more gang members to be charged in the shooting.
“I don’t understand why it’s so hard for them to find these people. I just don’t even believe they are looking,” she said of the investigators.
Dorchester County sheriff’s Capt. Tony Phinney said he was confident in the two arrests made in the case. Both are out on bail while awaiting trial.
Phinney said he didn’t know if there would be more arrests but that investigators were still actively working to gather more information.
“There were a ton of people out there,” he said, adding that more arrests would depend on what information witnesses could provide.
Myers says she just wants to know what happened the night her daughter was killed.
“I just can’t imagine why no one will tell me anything, if not me, then the detectives,” she said. “We’re talking about a club with so many people there, inside and outside. People know. People saw shooters, their faces, they’re able to identify these people, but no one’s helping me.”
She vowed to never stop seeking total justice.
“These people have to understand, when they take these guns into these buildings or just shoot a gun period, they not only destroy the life of that person, they destroy the family, the community,” Myers said. “Till the day I die, I’m going to fight.”
At first glance, unsolved homicide rates appear to support what the mothers of Blind Justice allege — that black victims don’t get the same justice as white victims.
However, Brame said it’s important to take into consideration the factors that play into solving a homicide.
“Justice is a hard word because it implies fairness,” he said. “There might be a racial difference in the strength of evidence.”
He stressed the need to compare data year by year, as opposed to as a whole over the past 14½ years.
“The reason is that some homicides take longer to solve than others,” Brame said. “The homicides that have occurred in the most recent years have had less time to be solved than the ones that occurred earlier. By looking at the yearly patterns, it addresses the concern that different race groups may have different waiting times to solve cases.”
In all but three years since 2001, homicides involving white victims were solved at a higher rate than those involving black victims. Brame said there is a strong pattern with strong evidence to support that but that it doesn’t necessarily mean there is racism going on when it comes to working cases.
There are at least three key factors, Brame said, in police clearing or solving homicides:
The relationship between the killer and the victim.
The strength of the physical or forensic evidence.
The availability and cooperation of witnesses.
“If any of these varies by race, that could potentially explain the kinds of statistical disparities in these data,” he said. “So a statistical disparity may or may not be indicative of inequitable treatment.”
Brame added that the data collected in the Lowcountry, for the most part, reflects the national statistics.
“Research suggests that the effort the police are able to put into an investigation, the relationship of the offender and the victim, the strength of the evidence, the cooperation of witnesses, and even the type of homicide can all have important effects on clearance rates,” he said. “In any individual setting if these same factors are also correlated with race, the data are likely to show racial disparities in clearance rates.”
Each mother who spoke out about their late children acknowledged that they believed there were witnesses in each case who had either not come forward or were unwilling to work with police.
Monica Jefferson, of West Ashley, said she has heard from most of her late son’s friends who were with him the night he was killed, and all denied seeing anything. She doesn’t believe them.
Malcolm C. Jefferson II was gunned down on Oct. 8, 2013, as he stood outside a home on Forbes Avenue. It was his 18th birthday. His friends were inside gambling, Jefferson’s mother said, and he waited outside until they were finished.
Police found him in a shed at the home and he later died from his wounds at Medical University Hospital.
“What gets me the most with everything is that there were several people at the (home) that night, and I know I have to get over it somehow ... but I’m angry,” Jefferson said. “This is someone who you all called your brother, but yet when those seven shots rang out, when those seven shots punctured my child’s body, nobody came out? ... I honestly believe that someone came out, but they’re not talking.”
Charleston Police Detective. R.J. Holmes also believes that someone saw what happened that night.
“It’s just a matter of that person coming forward,” he said. “It’s not being a rat, it’s doing something for a family where you would want them to do the same thing for your family.”
Holmes said he has become attached to the Jefferson homicide and that there would be no greater reward than solving the case and giving the family some much-needed peace.
He added that it’s always more difficult when there are uncooperative witnesses, but that only makes him work harder.
“I’m the kind of investigator who believes if someone saw something, you have to present yourself in a manner that you are willing to go above and beyond the means of the job,” he said.
Denise Cromwell, a North Charleston business owner and organizer of Blind Justice, said for some witnesses, cooperating goes beyond the “snitch” factor and stems more out of fear of retribution. She said that was likely especially the case in homicides involving gang violence.
“Nobody wants to talk about it because of who this gang appears to be or seems to be, but they have to understand that these mothers are hurting,” she said.
Cromwell, Johnson and the Rev. Thomas Ravenell, another Blind Justice organizer, have spoken about initiatives to try to make witnesses feel more at ease coming forward in a case.
“If you don’t want to tell the police what’s going on, call some other adult,” Johnson said. “I can understand some of their reservations for not wanting to go to the police, so we (should) set up other things, other places, other avenues where they can go and speak about the crime in whatever way they feel comfortable.”
Ravenell encouraged each mother not to give up hope and said that members of Blind Justice would be “beating the streets” for answers.
“That’s how it’s going to get done,” he said of solving the homicides. “When people see mothers knocking on doors and they see three mothers who lost their kids to street violence out in the streets doing the ground work, doing it ourselves, someone will come forward. You don’t have to tell us, just call Crime Stoppers.”
Until justice is served, each mother described living with the heartache of not truly knowing what happened.
“It’s hard. It’s my ultimate nightmare,” Myers said of living without her daughter. “Her last words to me were, ‘Mom, I love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you,’ then she said, ‘I love you more,’ and she blew a kiss and hung up.”
She and some of the other mothers said they will always wonder what the future would have held for their children. Jefferson said her son wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, become a mechanic and open his own shop. She said he had just graduated high school and lived for his family.
“One of the things I read on a post of his one week before he died (was), ‘Every day, I live to make my mama and my granny proud of me,’” Jefferson said.
Ravenell closed the group’s gathering with a prayer and asked for help in getting every mother justice. Jefferson added that it was her solemn prayer for God to expose all those involved in the killings.
“I’m going to continue praying, I’m going to continue marching, I’m going to continue passing out fliers and taking to the streets because, see, it’s not just about my child, it’s about all these parents here who lost their kids,” she said. “I’m going to fight for my child, I’m going to fight for their kids and I’m going to try to stop another parent from burying their child.”
Andrew Knapp contributed to this report. Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.