Keeping faith: Family and police grapple with Hedgepeth’s unsolved murder years later
In the early morning of Sept. 7, 2012, UNC junior Faith Hedgepeth was beaten to death in her off-campus apartment. Seven years later, her murder is still unsolved.
The seven-year anniversary brings Faith’s memory back to the forefront, but there is still no justice for the former 19-year-old student and member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe from Hollister, North Carolina who dreamed of becoming a doctor.
For Faith’s father, Roland Hedgepeth, Faith’s murder feels almost like it happened yesterday. But he would be surprised if anybody on campus remembers Faith, who was a member of a student population that has moved on and is approaching their 30s now.
Roland remembers his daughter as kind-hearted and always full of laughter. On Faith’s last night, she texted Roland, encouraging him during a difficult family situation. She told him everything was going to work out and to “just have faith.”
Rolanda Hedgepeth, Faith’s sister who was about 18 years older than Faith and saw her as almost a daughter, described Faith as caring, sweet and energetic: someone who always wanted to help people. One of her last memories of Faith occurred the Sunday before her death, when Faith met Rolanda’s boyfriend and told him to take care of her sister.
Sept. 7, 2012
The timeline of Faith’s last night alive leaves some to question the details. At about 5:45 p.m., Faith attended a rush event for UNC’s chapter of the Native American Alpha Pi Omega sorority. Later, she went to the library with roommate Karena Rosario. After midnight, the two went out to a now-closed Chapel Hill nightclub called The Thrill.
Faith and Rosario came back to their apartment by about 3 a.m. About an hour later, Rosario left the apartment with a friend, leaving the door unlocked. Along with a different friend, Marisol Rangel, Rosario found Faith dead at 11 a.m. the next morning and called 911.
"She's unconscious," Rosario said during the call. "I just walked in. There's blood everywhere. I can't believe this. Someone had to have been in there."
Assistant Chapel Hill Police Chief Celisa Lehew said the police department has strong evidence in the case, and still believes it’s not a question of if the case will be solved, but when.
“It’s always been an active case, and we continue to work it each and every day,” Lehew said. “Of course, this is a horrible tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the family. We know how devastating this is for them, so we have not let up on every angle of our investigation.”
The evidence left behind delivers clues, but no certain answers as of yet. The police department originally sealed documents about the case, only releasing them two years after the murder. Now, Faith’s family and the public have known for years the extent of what the unsealed documents show.
For instance, a handwritten note on a fast food take-out bag in the apartment read, “I’m not stupid bitch. Jealous.”
A sexual assault kit on Faith found semen that matched other DNA evidence at the crime scene and has been used to create a computer-generated composite of a Latino or mixed European and Native American man.
Released documents showed that Eriq Takoy Jones IV, Rosario’s ex-boyfriend, threatened Faith’s life if Rosario did not get back together with him. Rosario brought a domestic violence protective order against him in July 2012.
On Sept. 6, the day before the murder, Jones posted a message to someone on Twitter asking for forgiveness for what he was about to do. Jones also posted a message in his Facebook page cover photo three days after Faith's murder that said, “Dear Lord, forgive me for all of my sins and (the) sins I may commit today. Protect me from the girls who don’t deserve me and the ones who wish me dead.”
Jones’ DNA did not match the DNA found at the scene. The police have tested hundreds of other samples with no matches, although some people have declined to submit DNA samples.
Faith also left a voicemail on the night she died. The audio is garbled, but has been analyzed by outside audio expert Arlo West, who believes Faith was pleading for help.
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West said he believed he heard the names “Eric” and “Rosie” on the recording.
But the time stamp of the voicemail was at 1:23 a.m., which was before Faith left the club the night of Sept. 7 and about three hours before police believe Faith died — making the call’s content less clear in its significance.
With all the evidence and theories that have been compiled in Faith’s murder, Roland Hedgepeth has his own speculations. He said he thinks there was a lot of anger involved, likely out of jealousy. He said he believes at least one person, maybe multiple, know what happened to Faith.
Chapel Hill Police continue to use advancements in DNA forensics technology, Lehew said. She said they maintain relationships with those connected with the case and talk to the same individuals when new information becomes available through tips or evidence procedures.
“Faith was a very infectious person, and what I mean by that is she had a very social personality, and everybody that met her were friends,” Lehew said. “We continue to look at associates, both in that inner circle and out, to get a feeling for who we’re looking for.”
Rolanda believes the police department is working on Faith’s case consistently and that the case will be solved, but she didn’t think it would take seven years.
“I just feel like somewhere she was betrayed by somebody,” Rolanda said.
Beyond the headlines surrounding her death, Faith made an impact with her personality on campus and her legacy through the Faith Hedgepeth Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship has assisted several Native American women from North Carolina tribes to earn a higher education.
Roland said current students should look carefully at the people they surround themselves with.
“I’d have to tell them to pick your friends very carefully and always be aware of your surroundings, and don’t take anyone or anything for granted,” Roland said. “Faith, I believe, was gullible in a lot of ways. She still believed there was good in everybody, and maybe there is not good in everybody. I’d want the campus community, especially the females to just be very, very careful in that respect about not just men that they’re around, but the females they’re around also.”
Seven years have passed without answers, but Roland said he is hopeful that Faith's case will be solved, not necessarily through the Chapel Hill Police Department, but through God. He said that although contact with the Chapel Hill Police has drifted these past few months, there's no animosity between them.
Lehew said she remains in close contact with the Hedgepeth family, but allows them to guide that conversation.
A $40,000 reward is available for information leading up to an arrest. Anyone with information about the case can call (919) 942-7515.
“I just pray that whoever did it will come to repentance about it,” Roland said. “I can’t bring Faith back. There’s nothing they can do to bring Faith back or undo what’s been done. But I hope that something in the person or person’s life happens that causes a change in their heart.”