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A light, a joy: Loved ones remember 74-year-old woman killed by 'celebratory gunfire' on Fourth of July

Posted July 6, 2020 6:39 p.m. EDT
Updated July 6, 2020 6:56 p.m. EDT

Family, friends and neighbors of 74-year-old Paulette Thorpe say she was a very sweet woman who brightened up everyone’s day with her positivity and laughter. In fact, she was doing just that – celebrating the Fourth of July at a friend’s house on Burlington Avenue – when she was struck by a stray bullet that fell from the sky.

On the Fourth of July, 'celebratory gunfire' could be heard echoing around some Durham neighborhoods.

“Boom boom boom. Sometimes I can’t really tell between a bullet, a gunshot and a firework," said Linda Leak, a friend of Thorpe.

Family members said Thorpe had left a family get-together across town, deciding to head back home as it got darker and rowdier from the fireworks.

She stopped along the way to see some friends, just a block away from her house. ​That's when she was struck by the bullet.

Thorpe is described as a complete joy to be around. At a loss for words, Carlos Lyons reflects on his late aunt’s memory. He said, "For myself, I'm numb. I've hardly slept. Hardly ate. It's just unreal." 

Lyons said his fun-loving aunt left the family gathering early out of concern for all the fireworks and gunshots in the area.

“For it to be a block away from where she lives and ultimately get killed by the one thing she was trying to get away from – I think that’s what’s really not sitting well with me," he said.

"She could’ve still been with us," he added.

A joy and a light: Remembering Paulette Thorpe

Thorpe was known by many as a kind hearted, loving woman. Leak said, "She was always dressed so nice. And she would just hit you with a smile.”

Alvin V. recalled Thorpe, saying she was, “A lady who worked all her life. A productive member of society."

Thorpe was the second-oldest of 10 other siblings. She was a Hillside High graduate and longtime nursery unit clerk at what is now Duke Regional Hospital.

Thorpe leaves behind children, grandchildren, siblings and many other family members and friends. She would have turned 75 on July 31.

Her family members said she wasn’t a fan of fireworks, but loved spending time with her family and friends. The tragic Fourth of July incident has the community reflecting on the senseless gun violence in the area.

Alvin V. said it's a tragedy to have her fall behind someone just having a good time shooting a gun into the air.

He warned against the immense danger of 'celebratory gunfire,' which is not an uncommon occurrence in Durham on holidays with fireworks like New Years and Fourth of July. Those bullets could hit or fall on anyone.

“It could’ve been my mother, my sister, somebody’s daughter," he said.

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