Those close to a UNC junior murdered earlier this month are growing anxious for details.
Friends found 19-year-old Faith Hedgepeth dead in her apartment—located at 5639 Old Chapel Hill Road—Friday, Sept. 7 at around 11 a.m. Chapel Hill police believe the crime was not a random act of violence, and there is no imminent threat to anyone on the UNC campus. A judge has sealed details regarding the homicide investigation in order to protect police proceedings, and a reward upwards of $25,000 is being offered to anyone who can provide information leading to an arrest.
Although investigators have been responding to numerous tips and leads, they have yet to name a suspect or make an arrest.
UNC senior Marilyn Payne worked with Hedgepeth several days a week at Red Robin restaurant in Durham, where she said Hedgepeth was everyone’s favorite co-worker. At the funeral, Payne spoke with Hedgepeth’s friend who discovered her body and called the police. The friend was visibly traumatized by what she saw in the apartment that morning, though she did not detail the manner of death, Payne said.
“[The friend] said no one would have done what she saw,” Payne said.
Hedgepeth was a biology major and Gates Millennium Scholar from Warrenton, N.C., and friends say she wanted to become a pediatrician. A member of the Haliwa-Saponi American Indian tribe, she became involved in the UNC American Indian Center during her freshman year.
“Faith was one of the kindest people you will ever meet and very active on campus,” said UNC freshman Matthew Taylor, who went to elementary school with Hedgepeth. “We don’t see why anyone would want to take the life of someone so promising.”
Police spokesperson Sgt. Joshua Mecimore noted that homicides are few and far between in Chapel Hill. The only other student murdered in Chapel Hill in the past 10 years was Eve Carson, a student body president who was murdered in 2008 in an apparently random act of violence. In December 2011, a jury found Laurence Lovette guilty of the crime. Lovette was also charged with the 2008 murder of Abhijit Mohato, who was a 29-year-old Duke engineering graduate student at the time.
Authorities have sealed any information that might compromise the integrity of the Hedgepeth case, such as the original 911 call and details of the crime scene, Mecimore said. He added that police have not yet received any information from the Office of the Medical Examiner, and they cannot comment on how Hedgepeth was killed. Authorities typically choose to seal information that only someone involved in the crime could know, he said.
“If we release that information to the general public... it would be hard for us to know where [a person] got that information,” Mecimore said. “It helps us determine a person’s level of involvement.”
Releasing information about the manner of death, in particular, could harm the defendant’s ability to get a fair trial with an unbiased jury, in addition to disrupting the investigation.
Mecimore noted that whoever is eventually charged with the crime will be prosecuted in the Durham County court system because the crime was committed in the part of Chapel Hill located in Durham County.
Corporate offices for Hawthorne at the View apartments, where Hedgepeth lived, and Chapel Hill police have instructed management not to discuss details of the case with the public, an employee of the complex said. But she noted that to her knowledge, residents have not expressed concerns about safety at the complex following the murder—though management is considering increasing security. She added that not very many students live at Hawthorne on the View.
Any information the complex has was already given to the police, and residents are learning about what happened through the news, she said.
Most crime in Chapel Hill apartment complexes is property crime, not violent crime, said police spokesperson Lt. Kevin Gunter. He added that police do not frequently encounter crimes committed against individuals in the area near Hedgepeth’s apartment.
The UNC Board of Trustees is offering a $25,000 reward for information that could lead to an arrest. The Haliwa-Saponi tribe and Hawthorne on the View are each offering an additional $1,000. Mecimore said investigators have received a steady number of tips since the case began, peaking twice—first, when it was released that Hedgepeth’s death was a homicide and second, when the reward was announced.
Taylor said that even though he understands why authorities decided to seal the investigation, he would like to know about the investigators’ progress for his own peace of mind.
“I’m as much in the dark as I was on the day that it happened,” he said.
Payne said she expected to hear rumors going around campus about who might have killed Hedgepeth, but no one has any idea who it was.
“There are some people in the world who create enemies... but Faith got along with everyone she met,” Payne said. “She was someone who likes to make people happy and would never have done anything to put herself in a position to be killed.”