Family Pushes for Answers in Mysterious Death of Native Student
Just have faith.
That’s the message inscribed on Faith Hedgepeth’s headstone in Warrenton, North Carolina. It also has become a mantra for Hedgepeth’s family and friends, who have waited nearly a year for answers in the teen’s death.
“Just have faith,” mother Connie Hedgepeth said. “That’s what she always told people and that’s what we’re doing now.”
September 7 marks the one-year anniversary of the day Hedgepeth, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, was found dead at about 11 a.m. in her off-campus apartment. She was last seen alive at about 3 a.m. that day, after she and her roommate returned home from a nightclub.
Chapel Hill police have been mum since January when they released a profile of the suspected killer and a timeline of the night of the murder. The cause of death has not yet been revealed and police have not named a suspect or made an arrest.
The one-year anniversary is not going unnoticed by police, however, said Sgt. Bryan Walker.
“The police department won’t let the anniversary go by without—at the very least—an appeal for more information,” he said. “The investigation is continuing. It is not a cold case. Leads are still actively being followed. We have a plea for anyone with more information, even if you don’t think it’s important, to come forward and contact us.”
On July 19, a superior court judge signed an order to reseal for 60 days the documents in the case. That means all police reports, interview material and other information about the investigation, including cause of death are protected from review. After 60 days, the county attorney’s office can either release the information or request the records be resealed. Documents have been sealed repeatedly since the incident.
As the anniversary of her death approaches, the community, tribe and university are finding ways to honor Hedgepeth.
A memorial walk and vigil are planned on the UNC campus and the tribe is hosting a fundraiser for a scholarship in Hedgepeth’s name. The Haliwa-Saponi Tribe is the third-largest in North Carolina, comprising roughly 4,300 people living within a 10-mile radius.
The tribe was shaken by Hedgepeth’s death and members still mourn her, said Alfred Richardson, tribal administrator.
“She was a very beautiful and talented girl who was committed to her culture,” he said. “Her friends are still very attached to her, still mourn her loss. No one’s forgetting this. As long as we remember her, there will be recognition of what happened.”
Alpha Pi Omega, the oldest American Indian sorority in the country, voted at its national convention in July to award Hedgepeth honorary posthumous membership. This action was unprecedented for the sorority, which was organized in 1994 at UNC Chapel Hill.
The vote was unanimous, said Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, a spokeswoman for the sorority. Hedgepeth had indicated that she wanted to join the sorority and several of her relatives already were members, Krehbiel-Burton said. Her family will receive membership paraphernalia in her honor.
“We are proud to now call Faith Hedgepeth a sister of Alpha Pi Omega Sorority and only wish that she had been able to join before her death,” said Symphony Oxendine, grand president of the sorority. “We continue to have faith that justice will soon be served for her, her family and her loved ones.”
Connie Hedgepeth named her daughter Faith because she represented hope during a dark time. Every time she sees the word now, she remembers the woman who was a friend to everyone.
“People have reached out to us and told us she was such a good friend, always willing to help people,” she said. “She did more in her 19 years than I have in my whole life.”
The family only recently put the headstone on Hedgepeth’s grave, her mother said. The upcoming anniversary reminds her of the final days she spent with her daughter. The two spoke on the phone three days before Hedgepeth’s death.
“We know that the police are working hard, still trying to solve the case, find out who killed her,” Connie Hedgepeth said. “It’s hard, but we’re doing the best we can. We’re trying to be patient and wait on the Lord.”
A total of $39,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about the crime can call the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-614-6363 or Crimestoppers at 919-942-7515.
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