In tragedy, having Faith

For the past 19 years, Roland Hedgepeth has spent this day with his beloved daughter, Faith Danielle Hedgepeth.

Today — on what would have been her 20th birthday — he will spend it without her for the first time.

“She was born at a real hard time in my life,” said Roland Hedgepeth. “I always felt like the Lord had given me Faith to give me something to live for, and I came through those hard times.”

On the morning of Sept. 7, Faith Hedgepeth, a UNC junior, was found dead by friends in her apartment off Old Chapel Hill Road.

Chapel Hill police have released little information about the homicide investigation into her death — though calls from Durham emergency response officials have shed light on what they encountered upon arriving at the scene.

Many have expressed confusion, fear and sadness over Hedgepeth’s death. But today, her friends and family will choose to remember a friend they describe as smart, kind and loving.

Gift to a family

Twenty years ago, Roland Hedgepeth was sitting anxiously in a hospital waiting room while his then-wife, Connie, went into labor.

“They came in and brought this little girl and showed her to me,” he said. “She was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen. As a newborn, she was just beautiful.”

That same day, 14-year-old Chad Hedgepeth met his baby sister for the first time.

“I can tell you about when she was first born, when I first held her,” he said.

“I laid her down on my chest, I was so scared I might drop her. Here she was.”

Even though Roland and Connie Hedgepeth separated soon after her birth, he remained close with his daughter throughout her life.

“Faith’s my baby girl,” he said. “Faith was the one who never judged me.”

After he moved to Catawba County — where he still lives today — he said he still saw his daughter every few months and talked to her several times a week.

And he always made it home for her birthday.

“All I know is it’s an even sadder day,” he said.

Faith Hedgepeth came to UNC in 2010 as an Alston-Pleasants Scholar and a Gates Millennium Scholar.

“I was more than happy when she got selected,” said Chad Hedgepeth, who worked at the foundation. “She was more than a good student.”

Upon arriving at UNC, Hedgepeth became involved with the UNC American Indian Center, Unheard Voices — the American Indian a cappella group — the Carolina Indian Circle and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers in Durham.

“I don’t even know how she found the time to do all the things that she did,” said Chad Hedgepeth.

Junior Victoria Chavis became close with Hedgepeth when they participated in the 2010 Summer Bridge program.

She said Hedgepeth and their tight-knit Summer Bridge group have celebrated her birthday together every year since they were freshmen.

Tonight they will celebrate by hosting a fundraiser at the Durham Red Robin from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

“We’re still going to celebrate her birthday, even though she won’t be there to celebrate with us,” she said.

The money raised will go towards a scholarship in Faith Hedgepeth’s name.

Waiting for answers

In the more than two weeks since her death, Roland Hedgepeth has tried to focus on things other than the death of his daughter.

“We have to focus our mind on things other than grieving,” he said. “We just want to know why … It’s just senseless.”

But when he returned home a little more than a week ago, his daughter’s death finally hit him.

“When I got back home, it was like the house was just empty, and it’s been like that ever since,” he said. “It’s like she lived there.”

Chad Hedgepeth said he’s still shocked by her death.

“A lot of things about it still don’t seem real,” he said.

“I’m kind of afraid I’m gonna get knocked out one day and it’s all going to hit me.”

Both Chad and Roland Hedgepeth have said police have told the family little information about what happened to Faith Hedgepeth that night.

Roland Hedgepeth said the lack of knowing makes it more difficult to handle.

“I try hard to understand, to believe that they know what they’re doing,” he said.

“That’s one of the hardest parts — we don’t know anything yet.”

But Rolanda Hedgepeth, Faith Hedgepeth’s older sister, said she is confident police will solve the case soon.

“I feel like they’re doing their job,” she said. “I feel like an arrest is coming soon.”

And she said she’ll remember the little everyday moments she shared with her sister for almost 20 years.

“It’s just her bubbly personality … Her coming in my front door and saying ‘Hey Ro!’” said Rolanda Hedgepeth, who was 18 years older than her little sister.

“I was big sissy and she was little sissy,” she said.

Few new details

Chapel Hill police have said little about the homicide investigation in the past two weeks.

No arrests have been made in the case, and a cause of death has also not been released.

Chapel Hill police have said they don’t believe the slaying was random or that it poses a threat to the community, but few additional details have been released.

According to communications among Durham emergency responders, police and fire officials, Hedgepeth was found in her bedroom, and there was blood at the scene.

The recordings also said someone had been in the apartment.

Five search warrants were sealed prospectively in the case from Sept. 7 to Sept. 11 at the request of Chapel Hill police.

Whether the sealing orders have an expiration date is still unknown.

The 911 call made to police has also been sealed, according to police and emergency communications officials.

Sgt. Josh Mecimore, spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said in previous interviews that the documents were sealed to protect the integrity of the investigation.

He said releasing too many details could impede police’s ability to find suspects.

A $29,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest in the case.

Roland Hedgepeth said he hopes police make an arrest soon.

“As a father, I feel like I ought to be filled with hate, but I’m just so hurt I can’t feel anything else,” he said.

“We just want justice for Faith.”

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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