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Families of homicide victims remember loved ones at vigil

SALISBURY — Sharod Mathis was the glue that held his family together, and his 2016 death brought a great deal of sadness and loss to his family, said his grandfather, Barry Cassell.

Mathis, 22, was shot outside Firewater Restaurant and Lounge. Three hours later, police responded to a related shooting that took the life of 7-year-old A’yanna Allen.

In addition to Mathis and A’yanna, several other homicide victims were remembered Thursday night by their families, friends and others during the Unity of Hope candlelight vigil. It was hosted by the Salisbury Police Department and organized by victims advocate Alberta McLaughlin as a way to show support for the survivors of homicide victims.

The vigil comes during Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month, which is Nov. 20-Dec. 20.

Mathis’ sister, Tanajah Robinson, said she is grateful that everyone was able to come together as one.

“He held everybody together,” Robinson said.

She said what she misses most about her brother is his goofy personality.

“It’s been a great loss to our family. We miss him a lot,” said aunt Tiffany Rushmeyer.

Rushmeyer, who raised Mathis, said she hopes detectives continue investigating Sharod’s murder and the other unsolved murders.

“I hope they don’t stop,” she said.

Robinson said she tries to remember the good times. Mathis left behind two sons who are being raised by his paternal grandmother, Carol Mathis. Explaining his death to his children is difficult. The youngest child is 7 and he often asks if his father is going to wake up.

“It’s hard when they ask questions you don’t know the answer to,” Carol said.

This week. the Salisbury Police Department announced that a suspect has been identified through DNA testing in 35-year-old murder of Reesa Dawn Trexler, who was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.

The family of Sharod Mathis said they, too, hope that one day they will get answers.

“I have very strong hope that we will get there,” Carol Mathis said.

April Woodberry, the maternal grandmother of A’yanna Allen, attended the vigil with a few members of her family. Wednesday was the third anniversary of the second-grader’s death and that of Mathis. Woodberry has said it’s hard for her family, especially during the holidays.

The vigil “was really nice. I appreciate it and everything that the Salisbury Police Department is doing to solve A’yanna’s case,” she said.

It’s been nearly three years since Karen Blackwell’s son, Demareo Bost, 28, was shot in the back outside an Oakwood Avenue home. Bost and the man investigators say was responsible for shooting him, Tasman Stockdale, were longtime friends. Stockdale walked out of court in December 2017 after having served five months in jail awaiting trial and then accepting a plea deal.

Investigators said there were a number of people at the home who had been drinking.

“For two years, we haven’t been the same. We all have good days, and we have bad days,” Blackwell said.

Bost died two months before his daughter was born. Blackwell said it is often hard for her as a grandmother and mother because Bost’s daughter looks just like him.

She copes the best way she knows how, and that is by visiting his gravesite, sometimes at 3 a.m.

“I go to be at peace and to have closure,” Blackwell said, which she admits she has still not found.

Blackwell couldn’t find the words to express what she misses most about her son.

“I miss him in general,” she said.

Danielle Burris, the mother of TaLisha Crowder, who was killed in 2016, spoke briefly about the loss of her daughter. Burris was comforted as she shed tears while Henderson Independent High School Principal Alexis Cowan sang the gospel song “I Need You to Survive.”

Crowder, a Pfeiffer University junior, was shot by her estranged boyfriend, Brandon Hawkins, who is serving a 28- to a 35-year prison sentence.

Mary Nerro with N.C. Victims Assistance Network said programs like this lets families know they can lean on the community for support. She said they understand it can be difficult to wake up some mornings, but they can wake up and decide that today they are a survivor.

McLaughlin read the names of homicide victims whose family or friends were in attendance: Shanta Lomax, killed in 2014, and Terry Lark, who was shot to death in 2010. The names of A’yanna Allen, Reesa Trexler, TaLisha Crowder and Sharod Mathis were also read.

Organizers lit five candles — a black one to represent grief, purple to represent courage, yellow as a sign of memories, red to symbolize love and green as a reminder of hope.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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