On the evening before Faith Hedgepeth died in 2012, she attended an event for Alpha Pi Omega, the nation’s oldest and largest Native American Greek-letter organization. She was inducted into the sorority as an honorary member in 2013.
Hedgepeth was murdered early Sept. 7, 2012, at her apartment in Chapel Hill. The killer has not been found, but Hedgepeth’s memory lives on.
Each year, Alpha Pi Omega celebrates Foundations Week from Sept. 1 to 7. During this week, they recognize the core values of the sorority: education, spiritualism, traditionalism and contemporary issues.
With this month being the eighth anniversary of Hedgepeth’s death, former neighbor and distant relative Zianne Richardson suggested the chapter do something special to honor her memory.
“If COVID was not happening right now, we would have raised awareness in the Pit with signs and her pictures just to make sure everybody is aware of the problem of murdered and missing Indigenous women, but also be aware that it happened right near and close to home,” Alpha Pi Omega member Kaylee Ransom said.
Due to the limitations posed by the pandemic, Ransom organized several social media posts to honor Hedgepeth’s memory. One of these posts was a spoken version of a poem written by Richardson, titled “No More Stolen Sisters.”
The poem addresses the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Richardson wrote it in March 2019 as part of her senior project. It was mostly inspired by Hedgepeth, she said.
Richardson emphasized the importance of keeping Hedgepeth’s memory alive.
“People just want her to be remembered, because in Native communities, there are so many women that go missing or they get taken away from us,” Richardson said. “Just knowing that somebody is thinking of them and remembering them and keeping their memory is just comforting in a way.”
Richardson also stressed the importance of spreading awareness about #MMIW, which stands for murdered and missing Indigenous women.
“Spreading awareness for all missing and murdered Indigenous women is pretty much all Native people really want,” Richardson said. “We just want to be recognized.”
An active investigation
Hedgepeth was a Gates Millenium Scholar and an Alston-Pleasants Scholar at UNC, studying biology in hopes of becoming a pediatrician.
“She was always smiling,” Richardson said. “She was the type of person that could walk into a room and it would just make the entire atmosphere different. She had a way of making someone feel special in a room full of people.”
Assistant Police Chief Celisa Lehew said Hedgepeth’s case is still an active investigation. There are two full-time investigators working on the case on a daily basis, as well as additional support when needed.
The department has conducted thousands of interviews and made thousands of contacts over the eight-year investigation.
“You’ll hear that over the course of several years, we have really good evidence in this case. And we do. But what we have to do is prove each and every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, in order to bring about charges,” Lehew said.
Lehew said they are constantly trying to leverage forensic science, technology and new developments in that field, as well as interviewing anyone of relevance to the case.
The investigators continue to re-interview those who were associated with Faith and are persistent, Lehew said.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Lehew said.
Richardson recommended that those who wish to help demand justice for Faith should continue to stay updated on her case and on the larger issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“Raising awareness for Faith and MMIW is something that is very important,” Ransom said, “we will always strive for justice for Faith.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.