Rocky Mount, N.C. — Hundreds held a candlelight vigil at a Rocky Mount park Sunday evening for five women whose bodies were found in a rural area of Edgecombe County and for three other missing women in the area.
A group of residents, friends and relatives of the victims, organized the event at Martin Luther King Jr. Park as part of a campaign to draw attention to the deaths
Some attendees said they think law enforcement is not giving enough attention to the cases because the victims were black and had a history of drug use and prostitution.
“It doesn't matter what color or where you're from. Everybody's life is important,” the vigil's organizer, Zenier Wiggins, said.
“They were our friends. They were good people. They might have made the wrong decisions, but they were good people,” said Stephanie Jones, who knew two of the women – Jarniece Latonya Hargrove, 31, and Jackie Nikelia Thorpe, 35.
Their remains were found in a field on Seven Bridges Road between Battleboro and Whitakers. Hargrove, who was reported missing in May, was discovered last month; Thorpe, reported missing in May 2007, was discovered three months later.
Ernestine Battle, 50; Melody LaShae Wiggins, 29; and Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 28; were also found in the same area.
A sixth body discovered in February has yet to be identified, and family members of three other missing women with similar descriptions and backgrounds – Christine Marie Boone, Renee Joyce Durham and Yolanda Renee Lancaster – are worried.
"It has been hard. Every time, when the phone rings in my house, my grandma rushes to it because she thinks it's my mother,” said 9-year-old Joshua Marshmon, Lancaster's son.
“I just try to be strong for them. I try not to let them see me get upset. But it is hard,” said Joshua's grandmother, Juray Tucker.
The family members have organized the group MOMS – Missing or Murdered Sisters. It aims to draw attention to the unsolved cases.
“Regardless of what lifestyle they have, these are people with mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts. Most of all, they are loved,” said Willette Battle, Hargrove's cousin.
The group held two fundraisers this weekend in an effort to purchase a billboard ad with the women's photos.
“People are scared. People are mad. People want to know what they can do to help,” Wiggins said.
The Edgecombe County Sheriff's Office, Rocky Mount Police Department and State Bureau of Investigation are part of a task force looking into the case. The Edgecombe County District Attorney's Office is also lending support to investigators.
“I just feel like the person who's doing this is among us. We probably see him every day. Something needs to be done about it,” Battle said.
Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight attended the vigil. He told the crowd that investigators are working hard to solve the cases and that they need the public's help.
"They can help us. Tell us the truth, tell us the truth so my mom can be found," Tucker said.
"When is this going to stop? When is this going to end?" Battle asked.
Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call the Edgecombe County Sheriff's Office at 252-641-7911.