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Dozens in Raleigh searching for woman at center of decades-old arrest warrant in Emmett Till's murder

Dozens of people gathered in Raleigh on Wednesday to demand a decades-old arrest warrant be served on Carolyn Bryant Donham.

Posted Updated

Aaron Thomas
, WRAL reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Dozens of people gathered in Raleigh on Wednesday to demand a decades-old arrest warrant be served on Carolyn Bryant Donham. The demonstrators marched inside a senior living facility, which prompted Raleigh police to respond to the scene.

In 1955, Donham accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of whistling at her at a store in Money, Mississippi. Days later, Till was kidnapped from his bed, tortured and shot. The fan from a cotton gin was tied around his neck with barbed wire before he was tossed into the Tallahatchie River.

Donham's husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were arrested and later acquitted in the case.

Sixty-seven years later, an arrest warrant for Donham was recently found in the basement of the Leflore County courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Till's family has pushed for the warrant to be served.

"You cannot ignore this. That is the reason why the warrant needs to be served, and it will help create change," said Till's cousin Priscilla Sterling. "If this is what's needed to do for us to change our mindset, our behaviors and attitudes in the society, then this will do it. This will do it. Execute the warrant."

On Wednesday, people went to two locations in Raleigh trying to send a message directly to Donham, following reports that she now lives in Raleigh.

Demands for arrest and extradition

"It's time for you to answer," one demonstrator said knocking on the door of a Raleigh home.

"I want her to go turn herself in, and I want her to not be able to get no peace until she sees Emmett Till's face," another demonstrator said.

Till's family and demonstrators said they're hoping authorities from North Carolina and Mississippi work together to have Donham extradited back to Mississippi and arrested.

"I do understand that Ms. Bryant is in her mid- to late-80s, but understandably, this is a crime she committed when she was 22. Sixty years later, it's time for her to be held accountable," said Monte, who asked his full not name not be used by WRAL News.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman has said "prosecuting authorities in Mississippi must request a fugitive warrant be issued and [Donham] be extradited" before Freeman or law enforcement officers in North Carolina can take action.

Fourth Circuit District Court of Mississippi District Attorney Dewayne Richardson has not commented the warrant.

Demonstrators try to find Donham in Raleigh

First, demonstrators went to a north Raleigh apartment, which they believed was the last known address of Donham.

"How can you eat? How can you exist knowing that you got the blood of a child on your hands?" a demonstrator said.

They then went to a second location at a senior living facility looking for her.

"Time to face your demons. Come on out," a demonstrator said.

Shocked residents looked on as some demonstrators marched their way inside the senior living facility. Raleigh police showed up minutes later.

One resident at the facility told WRAL News the place was put on a brief lockdown. Demonstrators said they found the location on the affidavit of the arrest warrant.

"I understand you have dementia, but at what point do you say enough is enough? And at what point do you say I have to hold myself accountable, regardless of the consequences," said Monte.

Since Friday, WRAL News has called over 30 numbers searching for relatives of Donham — hoping to hear their side of the story.

In a statement to NBC affiliate WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi, Richardson cited a December report from the U.S. Department of Justice, which said no prosecution was possible.

The DOJ officially closed Till's case in December when it described his murder as "one of the most infamous acts of racial violence in our country's history."

"No federal hate crime laws existed in 1955, and the statute of limitations has run on the only civil rights statutes that were in effect at the time," a DOJ report said on the case.

Demonstrators said they will continue to look for Donham.

"Right now, we're in negotiation mode ... trying to put pressure on Mississippi to make sure they execute that warrant so she can be taken from Raleigh to Mississippi," said John Barnett.


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