Thomas' mourners wonder: Why did it happen here?
Posted August 12, 2016
Updated August 18, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — The vigil Friday night at Raleigh's Millbrook Exchange Park was like any other. There were balloons, candles, songs and prayer. But it was also different, marred by the questions that surround the shooting death last Sunday of 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas.
The facts are clear: Thomas was with friends at a house party in the 3500 block of Single Leaf Lane. Chad Cameron Copley, 39, a resident of the street, is charged with his murder.
Investigators said Copley fired a shotgun through a window from inside his garage, striking Thomas, who was outside.
Copley called 911 shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday to complain about armed "hoodlums" racing and vandalizing his neighborhood and telling police he was ready to take action. "I'm locked and loaded, and I'm going to secure the neighborhood," he told a dispatcher.
Within hours, Thomas was dead, and, in a second call to 911, the caller said, "They were showing a firearm, so I fired a warning shot, and somebody got hit."
Attorney Justin Bamberg, who is representing Thomas' family, said there is no evidence Thomas or any of the people on the street had a weapon.
The reason, the tensions behind the shooting – Thomas was black and Copley is white – had mourners wondering how a situation could escalate so fast.
"It was just cold-blooded murder, and I hate that it happened," said Betty Johnson. "It could have been my son. It could have been any of our sons."
"You always think, in the back of your head, 'This could never happen in my neighborhood. This could never happen at home,'" said Danielle Harris, a friend of Thomas.
Thomas' family didn't attend Friday's vigil, on the advice of their attorney, but Harris and others had them in mind.
"He love his mom. He loved his family. He loved his friends, and I want people to remember him for that," she said.
"He was just a joy, just a joy to be around," said friend Andrea Tilton.
The questions make it even harder to let go.
Thomas' employers at McDonald's plan a benefit, with proceeds going to his family, on Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. at the restaurant at 6213 Falls of Neuse Road.
"He was a wonderful young man and great employee," manager Andy Martin said.