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Loved ones of missing women on their own quest for justice

Family members and friends of several women at the center of a murder investigation say authorities aren't doing enough to solve the cases.

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ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Authorities have said they are actively investigating the discovery of remains of five missing Rocky Mount women in the same rural area of Edgecombe County and whether the remains of a sixth woman could be that of one of several other missing women.

But family members and friends of some of the women said Friday that they don’t think investigators are working hard enough on the case.

Now, they are starting their own search for justice.

"I feel like we need to get some kind of search team going to look for these women, because it seems like the police or sheriff or nobody is going to come out here and help," said Stephanie Jones.

Jones knew two of the women – Jarniece Latonya Hargrove, 31, and Jackie Nikelia Thorpe, 35.

The remains of both 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.

"I can't go to sleep some nights, because I will be thinking: Is she all right? Is she hurt?" said Lancaster's daughter, Samara Marshmon.

That's why Jones and others organized the community group MOMS – Missing or Murdered Sisters.

She is working to raise money to purchase a billboard ad with the women's photos.

On Friday, the group held a fish fry, and a second one was held Saturday at Fairview Road and Raleigh Street in Rocky Mount. MOMS will also hold a candlelight vigil Sunday at 9 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

Jones said the events are part of an awareness campaign for victims who, she said, are being ignored because of their histories of drug use and prostitution.

"Basically, (investigators are) sweeping it under the rug," said Hargrove's cousin, Willette Battle. "This has been going on for years, and no one is addressing it. No one seems to care."

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.

None of the agencies have talked about the investigation, and addressing the issue of public concern, District Attorney Robert Evans on Thursday, called the case "sensitive."

"Nobody's safe; nobody knows who is doing it," Battle said.

Not knowing is the hardest part, said Lancaster's mother, Juray Tucker.

"The last (body) they found, it just tore my heart out, because I thought it was (my daughter)," Tucker said.

Instead of waiting, the families have connected to fight for justice.

"We need to find a way to solve this problem," Tucker said.


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