Remembering Faith Hedgepeth one year later

One year later, Rolanda Hedgepeth still visits her sister’s grave about four times a week.

Sometimes she just drives by the grave. Sometimes she gets out and talks to her baby sister. For the holidays, she put a Christmas tree on the grave with UNC-themed ornaments.

Faith Danielle Hedgepeth, a UNC junior, was found dead in her off-campus apartment on Sept. 7, 2012, just three weeks shy of her 20th birthday.

No arrests have been made in connection with Hedgepeth’s homicide, and the Durham County Clerk of Superior Court’s office sealed detailed search warrants from the case for 60 days on July 19. The records have been sealed several times this year.

And while Rolanda wants answers in her sister’s case, she’s willing to wait for the right ones.

“I told them from day one, I work within the court system, so I kinda know how it works,” said Rolanda, a deputy clerk for the Warren County Clerk of Courts. “No matter how long it takes, make sure they have a solid case. We don’t want him getting off on some kind of technicality.”

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Faith’s death, and many of her campus friends are still waiting for answers in a case that feels like it’s gone cold.

“We are still waiting for justice for Faith,” junior Chelsea Barnes said.

Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback said he empathizes with the UNC students still hoping for justice for their friend.

“We’re convinced that somebody knows something that will aid us in finding this killer,” Stanback said. “I’m frustrated too. I join them in their frustration.”

‘New tactics’

In January 2012, Faith posted a comment on her father’s Facebook page:

“you’re a great daddy! the truth always comes to light. love you.”

Stanback said his department has maintained steady contact with Faith’s father, Roland Hedgepeth, during the investigation. Roland has been adamantly working to make sure his daughter’s case doesn’t go cold.

“She pretty much lives in my mind,” Roland said. “I just miss seeing her. Talking to her. I just miss hugging her.”

Although he talks to detectives at least once a week, Roland said he is still frustrated that a suspect hasn’t been brought forward.

“Needless to say, it’s disappointing,” he said. “The Chapel Hill Police Department, I believe they’ve been diligent. They are still very tight-lipped in an effort to ensure the integrity of the case.”

And as the search for Faith’s killer approaches its one-year mark, Stanback said he and investigators are discussing new ways to approach the case.

“We are continuing to investigate it of course, and we may try some new tactics very soon,” he said.

Stanback would not comment on what the new tactics might be.

“There are such things as cold cases, where there’s been no break for years,” he said. “But, no, it’s an ongoing, active investigation.”

The Chapel Hill Police Department issued a statement Thursday begging anyone with information about the case to come forward.

“Investigators are appealing to members of the public to think back to that day — Sept. 7, 2012 — to try and remember anything out of the ordinary they might have witnessed,” said Sgt. Bryan Walker, spokesman for the department, in the statement. “The smallest remembered detail may be of great importance to the investigation.”

Stanback said his department continues to ask for the warrants in Faith’s case to be sealed because he’s worried releasing the documents would compromise the investigation.

“It’s our opinion that it helps us to keep them sealed,” Stanback said. “We have to keep those things confidential.”

‘Their little girl’

Hedgepeth was a biology major who attended UNC on a Gates Millennium Scholarship. The Warrenton native was also part of the Haliwa-Saponi American Indian Tribe.

In July, members of the Native American sorority Alpha Pi Omega unanimously agreed to extend honorary membership to Faith.

Barnes, the social director of the sorority, said while she didn’t know Faith very well, what she did know about her was incredible.

“The name of her scholarship is named Faith’s Smiles. Her smile really would just light up a room,” she said.

On Saturday, the sorority is hosting a silent memorial walk to raise money for a scholarship set up in Faith’s honor for Native American women.

“We kind of just wanted it to serve as something for the University community to commemorate this and show we haven’t forgotten about what happened,” Barnes said.

Mike Jones, the president of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and another coordinator for the event, said he also hopes the walk will help keep students’ memories of Faith alive.

“We’re still hoping for the best and we’ll never forget the legacy Faith left on this campus,” Jones said.

Jones met Faith when the two were in high school at North Carolina Renaissance, a program for high school sophomores from rural areas that encourages students to think about higher education.

Jones and Faith later served as counselors for the organization. In June, North Carolina Renaissance awarded sophomore Kimberly McCullough with the group’s first “Have Faith” Spirit Award for closely embodying Faith’s spirit during the program.

“Seeing her give advice to these students and seeing her have so much energy towards their education and helping them succeed was one of the best things you could ever witness,” Jones said.

Barnes said the sorority hopes that the walk shows officials that the campus community won’t stop until Faith gets the justice she deserves.

“I would love it for her family, although it wouldn’t bring her back, it would be justice in this situation to know what happened to their little girl,” Barnes said.

Students can meet at the Bell Tower at 7:30 p.m. Saturday to join in the walk.

Frustration rises

Leslie Locklear, president of the Alpha Pi Omega sorority for the 2012-13 year, said she can sense frustration among Faith’s friends.

“It’s hard not to be frustrated,” she said. “We know that it’s been one year.”

In the months following her death, law enforcement analyzed DNA evidence left at the scene by a male suspect.

In January, Chapel Hill police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Analysis Unit released a profile of the suspect. The statement said the suspect may have been familiar with Hedgepeth and lived near her in the past.

The suspect also might have commented about Faith in the past, and his behavior may have changed after the murder.

The suspect would have been unaccounted for in the early hours of Sept. 7.

Police haven’t released any new information about a suspect since January.

“The police are still being held accountable,” Locklear said. “We’re still looking. That puts more ease on it, even though it’s not an answer and it’s not justice. It makes one feel a little better.”

The truth

This week marked one year since Faith Hedgepeth’s family last heard her voice.

“This (day) was the last time we saw her this week,” Rolanda said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Today was the last time we actually talked to her.”

Rolanda said it’s hard to say whether she wants the police to name a suspect soon.

“It’s a yes and no,” she said. “We want answers, but we know it takes time. So we support them. We support the police department, we know they’re working hard.”

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