Three unsolved murders in a half mile radius in one Triad city.
Police trying to foster relationships in community known for drugs and violence
Easter Sunday vigil planned in the neighborhood.
BURLINGTON, NC – Imagine living in a neighborhood or area with three unsolved murders. In one section of Burlington, people have almost gotten used to the sound of gunfire and police sirens.
Some may think, it’s not my neighborhood and I don’t travel there, so why should I care? The answer is simple. Because the word “unsolved” means a killer, in this case, possibly three killers, are still free.
The area of town is loosely referred to as "Martown" or "Montown." The name doesn’t stand for anything but it encompasses the streets of Avon Avenue, Tucker, Mebane, Cameron, 6th and 7th streets
On January 26th, 2015, Charles “Chip” Groome’s body was found inside his home on 7th Street. Footprints were found in blood surrounding his body and the 74-year-old had defensive wounds to his face. The official cause of death was blunt force trauma.
“What happened to him should have never happened,” said Lisa Groome, Chips’ only daughter, told News 2 in 2016.
Derrick “Dee Dee” Hatfield, was shot while in his car on Avon Avenue on November 12, 2015. The 36-year-old attempted to drive away, but crashed into a house on South Broad Street, where he later died. Police only described a “disturbance” as what may have led to the shooting.
The most recent murder of Demarius Vincent, 30, took place on February 20th of 2017. Much like Hatfield, Vincent was also shot in his car on Avon Avenue. Police said Vincent was known to the area and would often park his car on the side of the road.
No arrests have been made just yet in the murders, but police said they continue to follow leads.
THE AREA AND WHAT’S BEING DONE
Avon Avenue to East 7th Street spans a half a mile. Captain Brett Taylor with Burlington PD said he grew up close to the “Montown” area.
“It was violent then. You could always get beat up in that area. But the difference is, now people have escalated to guns,” said Taylor.
The captain said he was well-versed in the area, where drugs, alcohol and assaults have been a problem for decades.
Taylor explained until the “element” goes away, the issue will remain in the area.
“We get little to no cooperation with people in the neighborhood that are obviously associated with crime or drugs,” said Taylor. “But, there are good people who live there too. And they have no other option but to live there for financial reasons. I’m sure they would love to have a positive relationship with police but many of them live in fear.”
Police increased their patrols and try to have more events with the community to foster relationships. Most recently, Taylor said several weapons arrests were made.
“Getting some of those people off the street has helped with the number of incidents that we’ve had in the last couple of weeks.”
Dejuana Warren lived on Avon Avenue until after pre-K. After her family moved, she would would stay with family friends who lived in the neighborhood.
As an adult, she stood in front of a makeshift memorial for Vincent.
“It’s a known area for this type of crime, but it’s never been this bad," she said.
On Easter Sunday, she, along with her group, Women Empowering Women and five local churches will hold a prayer vigil and celebration of Christ on Avon Avenue.
“We are willing to do whatever it takes to make these, to help these neighbors and residents feel more safe in this area," Warren explained. “Try to bridge the unity. Calling the police. If you see something, say something and let people that there is hope even in these area.”
Warren knows how violence can claim a loved one. Her cousin, Allante Murray, was killed in 2008 at the age of 17. Even though he was shot in broad daylight at the city's park with witnesses nearby, his dead remains the longest unsolved murder in recent Burlington history.
“I see my aunt’s pain, I see his sister’s pain, my uncle’s pain and to be in the grocery store talking to someone and you don't know if that was the person that took your child’s life, your brother’s life. It hits home. I know all about it.”
Henry Carrouth, a member of First Presbyterian Church, has helped with organizing the event. Carrouth and Warren spent time in the neighborhood, letting people know about the vigil and talking to them about their concerns .
“A lot of long-time residents that have lived here all their lives and all of these people, they’re angry and sad and their fearful," said Carrouth.
After the prayer event, a large cross decorated with fresh flowers, donated by First Presbyterian Church will be placed along Avon Avenue; a symbol of hope.
“In my opinion God is the only hope for this area," said Warren. “To say there is hope even in a place that others have deemed hopeless.”
“We want this to be the beginning. We don’t want this to be a bunch of white people on Avon Street on Easter Sunday to assuage their guilt about what’s happened out here," Carrouth, a white male added. “Begin that conversation to see what we can do as a people of faith to help us be able to live that faith and show Christ and be able to help with those things.”
Warren added after the event is over, she hopes the residents will have the strength to start taking back their neighborhood.
“Anything else illegal that’s going down, let’s call the police before the murder happens," said Warren. “Do whatever you have to do.”
The event starts at 5pm on Sunday, April 16th on Avon Avenue, between Mebane and Cameron Streets.