Special Episode: A community grief
Welcome to a special edition of the world and everything in it the last week of May on our daily program, we aired a four part serial story about a community's grief. It goes back to memorial day twenty seventeen, when a lone gunman snuffed out the lives of eight people in Rural Lincoln County, Mississippi it left area residents reeling world correspondent, Kim Henderson tells their story. Entre Sable for the Clarion Ledger and I'm out here in front of Perry County Sheriff's department where April is a career journalist with a resume spanning three decades. In two thousand seventeen, she was working as a crime reporter for Mississippi's top newspaper when she covered the state's largest mass shooting. Her twitter profile still shows photos of the victims. I think it's a mixture of. That being one of the biggest things that's happened in my life. but also because I. don't want them to ever be forgotten now. I've got you know Steph at the House. That will always remind me of of those days. Surrounding. Her twitter page also includes a quote from Martin, Luther. Yeah it's piece of possible truth at all costs I. think as a reporter That's something that we've lost, and there are people that are involved in ways that maybe they didn't intend, but it was. You know lax on their part. And then you know you've got the truth of this. which is there eight lives that were cut short? The didn't need to be. So what did happen that Memorial Day weekend? Here's what we know. The shootings took place at three different homes over a span of about six hours, and most of the victims were related to the killer by blood or by marriage. It all started when thirty five year old korry gobble went to his in laws home, whereas estranged wife, Sheena was staying. When he said he wanted to take their two children home with him. Trouble ensued. Someone called the sheriff's department. After a deputy arrived, there was some discussion then gobble pulled out a gun. He shot at least thirty two rounds, killing his mother-in-law, his wife, sister and aunt and the deputy. About three hours later, crime reporter able got a call from one of her sources. Sorry I answered the phone and he said. I just need to make sure you know. We've got a deputy dead and possibly three others. I said wait, what and he said. We've got a deputy down. And you know. And and you might WanNa. Get down here. So able jumped in her car and left the capital Metro area, headed south, and I was going one hundred and five miles an hour, and I had troopers pass in May not looking at me and I knew that was something real. Meanwhile, Godbolt was on his way to the home of his cousin Sean Blackwell. Sean is a preacher and he and his wife Tiffany spent time with the God bolts. They encourage the struggling couple to come to Sunday school and Church services. Accord godbolt resented tiffany black holes friendship with his wife. So we got to their house, but found out Sean and Tiffany weren't there. They gone to comfort Sheena gobbles wife at the crime scene. The house was an empty though Sean. Tiffany son and nephew were there along with some other children where he kills Jordan Blackwell who shielding his fifteen year old cousin from the bullets and Kills Austin Edwards. Who's eleven years old, next gobbled headed to the home of feral and Sheila Barrage, his wife's cousin feral returns fire, and is the only wound that Corey had from that night but he is out going, and then corey goes to the bathroom where he executes Sheila Barrage. That's eight shooting victims. All of them dead. Gobbled targeted people he believed were interfering in his marriage. In the middle of his rampage, he got on facebook and sent a message to Tiffany Blackwell now. She's cousin's wife. The preacher's wife, the one who's just lost a son. Basically Godbolt told her you've messed with my family. Now I've missed with yours. What unfolded just a few steps from here? Last night is almost too much to bear twenty seventeen went on record as the deadliest year of mass shootings in US history. It's one gunman mowed down hundreds at an outdoor music festival in Las. Vegas Killing Fifty Eight, and when another madman massacre twenty-six inside a Texas church, taking place at the while the motives for the Las Vegas shooting are still a mystery. The November attack at first Baptist Sutherland. Springs shared a connection with the one that happened five months earlier in Mississippi. In both cases, the shooters had a history of domestic violence. A recent study published in criminology and public policy indicates that many mass shootings have domestic violence thread running through them. In the Sutherland Springs case. The shooter had sent threatening texts to his laws. Who sometimes attended services at the Church? In Mississippi Corey gobbled have been convicted of assault in at least two of his wife's family members. If you look into, God bolts past there were some domestic violence. There are some situations where you know. The police were called, and maybe the charges or dropped, or maybe there weren't charges pressed. I happen to know that a few weeks before this happened. Sheena was driving and he was following her, and she called the police department as in other words, there were warning signs. Lots of paperwork. It's one of the tragedies of these crimes to me the whole thing. Could have been avoided. If there would have been in place is. You know maybe some other action taken. Lincoln County law enforcement officers were familiar with Corey gobbled. They also journalists Tarez able. She cut her teeth. There's a young reporter. And she was a friend of the slain deputy, so when she arrived at the crime scenes, officers led her move in close. But even she wasn't expecting what happened at her last stop and as I'm pulling up to three twelve East Lincoln I see him on his knees and getting onto the ground. This godbolt four deputies around him. One of them has just tossed his go into the side. And he's not handcuffed yet I get among was the only media on the scene and all she had was her cell phone. So she walked the parameter, holding it down low, trying to get the lighting right I see corey kind of turned his head, and as soon as he sees me, he starts saying. Audio here is courtesy of April and the Clarion Ledger one not. Just. Others Law. Abel's phone was low on storage, so she was deleting pictures and APPs. As she went, she ended up with a string of videos and a full confession. Right after someone has committed a murder, there is energy. There's an evil energy that rolls off them and I wasn't afraid to face him, but. There was this feeling of like. Like, it's in your chest. You just feel so little and so helpless and so unable to. Make sense of what's going on. and. What was coming off, Godbolt as he talked to me in my perception. WAS JUST A. Feeling I'd never felt before in talking to someone. Accused of murder. And it was probably because of the proximity to. The homicides themselves. That weekend as news of the shootings made it across the nation, I sent an email to my editor Marvin Olesky. Let Him, know I, live near where it happened. He wrote me back with a question that's rumbled around in my head ever since how to such a small community deal with so much death. Of College and I would like to invite you beautiful city. Lincoln County Mississippi is Rustic, rambling with cattle auctions, every Tuesday and a steady stream of eighteen wheelers, pulling out from the Walmart Distribution Center. Public Schools get lots of support? There's a community newspaper. The county seat Brookhaven has a thriving downtown area. It's just a place that. No matter which out of the tracks you live on or whatever like that? There's a real sense of community. And it's not the place you expected to heaven mass murder. No and I think that's been. That was one of the things that really rocked me at the beginning was How did this happen at home? I think for the people that have lived here and lived here all their lives. It was more that it was more Whoa, you know. How did we not see this coming? How did we not prevent this? How how do we react? Now that it's happened? In the aftermath of the tragedy, expressions of grief and the community ran the spectrum. Residents covered the slain deputies patrol car with flowers. Funeral goers filled and spilled out of the School Gymnasium. Pastor led prayer and a driveway near one of the crime scenes in Jesus great name. The youngest of the victims was Austin. Edwards eleven years old. Just days before the shootings he'd gone running with Corey Godbolt, a family, friend and relative by Marriage Austin was excited Corey taught him how to manage his breathing while they jog through the neighborhood down the street from the boys, Church. A prosecutor would later point out the irony in court. who was the one who took Austin's breath away forever? Austen's mother Shayla Edwards remembers what it was like to shop for a suit to bury him in. It hit me at that moment that this was the last. Time I'd be able to shop for my son. His favorite color is blue so I want him to have a something blue. I started crying and I couldn't stop crying and woman in the store walked up to shelagh she'd seen this story on the news, and she stopped in the middle of what she was doing. And she prayed for me for Apl the push to tell victims stories drove her and there was. You know things that that stick with you like in in? In the Blackwell's home when I walked into interview, them You know just a couple of days after it happens. And all I could think was. How do you want? How do you go on, you know? Accusations swirled about the God bolts, domestic issues and how authorities had handled them. Some in the community seemed set on revenge within weeks gobbles home burned to the ground. But one potential source of conflict did not take root racial division. Godbolt is black and seven of his victims were black. The slain deputy was white, and this is twenty seventeen, the wounds of Ferguson and police deaths in Dallas and baton rouge were still raw. People wanted to make a big deal out of a look. A black man who shot a bunch of people in the cops didn't kill him. You know things like that. April says officers later told her they were glad. She witnessed gobbles capture. They didn't do anything on toward. During the whole time I didn't see one of them. Lay a hand on him. Wrong I didn't see one of them. Even speak to him harshly. This was a county named for Abraham Lincoln by a reconstruction legislature. A county where in nineteen fifty five someone shot and killed a black voting activists in broad daylight on the courthouse lawn. But, that was decades ago and things have changed through her reporting. April told the world about a community grief. One of the most beautiful things to me about this was watching how this community came together around these families, and it did not matter who was black or white. That was all one family Lincoln County was a family. There was a lot that was changed by the trauma in the sadness, but I think that love that was shown. amongst the people that that lost the most really inspire the rest of the community to love one another better also. Meanwhile, the tragedy took a toll on the families of the victims. Children were afraid to be alone. Parents were unable to work. Students dropped out of college. A mother moved away to escape the memories. Shayla Edwards Sister Tiffany Blackwell also lost a son in the shootings eighteen year old Jordan a football standout who died shielding his cousin from bullets. To Jordan Blackwell. Tonight Jordan his parents and his family with his parents tiffany black will present the game the coach Tommy often. Sometimes I get up and can get dress and I'm fine and the the next moment on my way to work out here a Song Garcia. Something that reminds me of Jordan and ousted in just cried. Waste of you know the way to work in. The murders happened in May. By that August preachers kids Shayla and Tiffany were ready to do something positive with their grief. With the help of a friend, they decided on a prayer group. They named United in Christ against violence, so we meet across the railroad track. Across from the name of that the Chamber of Commerce and we just sit out there and we pray we pray for the children in the community, the teachers, the churches, the pastors, the very first time that we had it. It was so packed full of people from the sheriff's departments. Different police officers you name it. People came in droves in the. The community to pray together, so we we? We would pray for thirty minutes, and after the prayer we close out by the time the group got going. The TV cameras that converged on Lincoln County after the murders were long gone, they missed those meetings. They missed the push to name a stretch of highway in memory of William Durr. The deputy who died. They missed Sean Blackwell's facebook. Live video the one of him in the parking lot praying before going into God bolts preliminary hearing. Now. They didn't get to watch what was coming to the surface, but April did. God was bringing beauty from ashes like you couldn't have picked. A more beautiful family for this to happen to you. I mean we're all human. But. It's like you see that smile on Tiffany. Salas faces. And you would never know the pain that they carry. That might be the case, but tiffany Shayla and their families would soon need all the support. They could get to seek justice. The morning jury selection began in the capital murder trial of Corey, Godbolt, the sky. Thundered Rain fell in sheets. It was like two and a half. Years of tears bottled up coming down all at once. The families of God bolts eight victims had waited a long time for Justice Willie. Corey God volts alleged rampage and adhere. Attorneys took five days to settle on jurors. Because of pretrial publicity. All this was done in North Mississippi. The trial took place in accounting in the south part of the state, and since jurors were sequestered, every moment counted opening arguments started on a Saturday court convened on a Sunday locals could not recall any other time that it happened. Daisy more attended the trial. She knew Koi Godbolt hung out at her grandmother's house, but that was before he murdered her nephew since. The rollercoaster. This is a family member. Did someone we grew up? With Dan on the other side of it is like. Who is? Like how could you do those things? Reporter Tarez, able said the families of victims and witnesses like herself couldn't wait to get the trial behind them I think there was this big anticipation of getting the trial over with, but you didn't realize what the trial was gonNA. GonNa mean as far as what you're. GonNa Learn what you're going to see. Who you're going to see, you know that kind of thing. Able was the first to take the stand. Her video of God, Bolts Confession had become primary evidence the. Clarion Ledger even sent a lawyer down to protect her source from being named the one that had called her during the night. Jurors studied the footage of God. Bolton, able as it played on screen at the front of the courtroom. audio. Here is courtesy of April and the Clarion Ledger. Ran Out. Thing, they showed mercy. Dot Com. I. Not, a y'all as not nobody else, ask. For. God. Gobble watched the video to sell ended by a trio of defense attorneys. Instead of prison orange, he got to wear a coat and tied accord each day as well as a distinguished Pero wide framed glasses. Shayla Edwards found it difficult to be near him. When you see sitting in front of you, the man that killed your children, so it's Kinda hard and especially judge David strong warned that it would be an emotional trial and he was right. Those in the courtroom couldn't help but react to the frantic nine one one calls and gruesome details they heard you. Other moments were understated, but equally unforgettable like Sheena, gob bolts reaction to what the defense called a happy family photo of her her husband with their children. Just because it's on, facebook doesn't make it real. She said she suffered for years at her husband's hands. Leaving when he abused her, but Because he swore he'd change. Once, he even choked her and beat her so badly. She required treatment at the hospital. There was testimony of abuse from the gobbled to year old daughter as well. She took the stand just days after an unnerving incident at the trial. During the lunch break gobble somehow managed to beat on the window of a car where his child was seated. Has Health problems, but she made it to the trial anyway. She, she does, and she had experienced trouble of her own with Corey. A year before the shootings, the Lincoln County Justice Court convicted him of simple assault to create fear against murderous May. But May wasn't at the trial because of all of that or maybe in a way she was. Murder Smets Daughter Sheila? Barrage was one of the shooting victims. Dear no recess at the trial. Nee described what it was like to watch her granddaughter weep in the witness stand. Because witness first half with. I was no hippies Liam at all. I mean make you cry on my show and I like it. Do what cry bad. said she can now give her grandchildren a sense of direction. Six months after the tragedy, she did a deep dive into scripture. God became her comfort in knowing who he is. and. How he died for fillers like us, you can't. But love. God! I learned to the pin him more and more each. Lean not to your own understanding. With all way he's a nod, his tail and he will direct. Still. She misses taking rides with her daughter and the meals she cooked. May also mourns the loss of her son-in-law. Another one of the eight victims with my son in law would always told me he was big. So, you know I miss. Buffalo Maria Maria bad. He loved my daughter. May has grieved before, but she says this time has been different. Even. To. It's a hurt that. That only God can bring you back from. You feel like student. They're like he's already done that for me. Like many others hope the trial will bring closure. But after all this time, some in the community were beginning to wonder. Would a conviction be enough to end the bitterness? Miss Porter I'm going to show you. What is has already been put into evidence. As Dean. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the defense highlighted gobbles troubled youth. Jurors heard from godbolt siblings about how they're policeman. Father died in a shooting at their stepmother's hands. At one point an attorney asked gobbled sister to identify a photo. If you look on the screen. They're tiny with. That's a picture of. That's when Godbolt. Sister turned her head and saw the photo I picture of her and her siblings as children. She broke into a slight smile, but started to lose her composure, so she closed her eyes and turned away from it. After clearing her throat, she answered the largest question my mother. Myself Chris Corey and can you. Can't do you need a minute? Jurors also listened to gobbled aunt someone who testified on his behalf, but also sang at a victim's funeral, showing just how much this crime entangled a family tree. Then the courtroom encountered a different kind of witness one who had evangelism on her mind. It was gobbled first grade teacher sprightly Diane, Davis Harris and she didn't hold back. gave me a word for Corey. And the purpose for me being here today can stand up Sir and everyone in the courtroom was kind of shocked that the judge let her stand up. She stood up pointed directly at Godbolt and started talking. It does not matter Corey. Whether you live a welder, you. The most important thing you should note today where you're going to speak. Eternity Object we're getting a little bit out. Then of course, the prosecution objected and she had to sit down, but as she did, she was thanking. God got that out. So shots proceedings ended each day. Officers took gobbled away in a transport vehicle, but on the last night February twenty seventh, he headed somewhere different. Death row at Parchman penitentiary. Now breaking news tonight, four death sentences handed down by Pike. County jury jury. Nervously. Beyond a reasonable doubt. Following exist. Mission for Laura. One as the clerk announced the death penalty four times, people in the courtroom wept, wailed and rejoiced. With church with. Is. Over. We need a wall of media crowded around the family members reporter Tarez. Behind one of the TV, cameras, truth is at the trial when I asked them when they're all standing up there at the end, and I said guess. Where do you go from here and Shelagh step forward and said we live. I Still WanNa, cry thinking about that because I thought. I! Don't have that got on. My faith is very important to me, but I have learned so much from their family from Sean and Tiffany and Shelagh. And and just watching them fight this. With this full faith in God as their protector in their creator and the comforter. And it's like every time they do something. Even though I would say that I have strong faith every time they do something it just me like wow, I aspire. To trust and love God as much as they do. because they. This entire family has. Has Changed me from with. Many of those affected by the shootings looked for the trial to bring closure including April, she says the trial opened up scabs, but also brought some relief you know after the verdict was read and after the. Sentencing was handed down. It felt like somebody three windows open in my heart. It just felt like for a moment. And I don't know how long it'll last. I could breathe again. Tiffany Blackwill says she's glad it's over, but there aren't any winner, so we don't have our boys. In, even his life is over and his family's life. We all have to do with this as we think about. What could we have done different? What could we have saved it? You have all of the woody of S- plan. Through your mind on the night that it happened or even four years ago or five years ago, could we have done differently to be a different outcome, so it always plays your mind. April has questions to. Especially since evidence in court showed Godbolt made meticulous plans with particular targets in mind. This is where domestic violence goes. I think there's a lot left to be told now, that said. A reporter's job is to report what they can verify and. Some of the things that people are digging around about and myself as well are things that are hard to verify. But would that really change anything? I think if there are places that need justice yeah. I. I think if there are not. then. We'll always all have a lot of unanswered questions. Shoe state and she stayed as she. She never did this before call. Brown is related to some of the victims. He lives in the neighborhood where the first four murders happened, and he remembers his sisters call at four that morning she said opened the door. and. Police cars was probably land to how he fitting one. Till to where the incident to happen and this Paul, a quarter mile away and a retired state. Trooper Brown has seen violent crimes, but these shootings shocked him. Last year he rallied community support for a sixty thousand dollar memorial engraved at the top of the stone. Monument is a simple declaration. You never be forgotten. Below that. There's a list of those who died. Own on the left side he'll facing. This is a time capsule in here and we replaced it. We we say fifty years from the date going to open it. They put pitchers. They put news. Articles Obituaries Brown says he hopes the memorial brings healing, especially among family members with ties to both Godbolt and his victims right now is a lot of bitterness and. predestined. Pass Shayla Edwards is praying to you. You know you wanNA forgive and that can be hard for some of us to do, but you know my prayers for his family. His children who are suffering through this. These are good kids, you know. We want to make sure that they are okay to. They've lost grandmothers aunts. Cousins friends. They lost just as well as we did, so we keep them in our prayers, also we even. I pray for him to. The American justice system attempts to set things right with penalties and that's fitting and proper. Christian hearts long for this something more of Biblical justice, the making victims whole again dimension. Murders may gets that. She lost her daughter and son-in-law and God bolts rampage three years ago, but trust in God keeps her hopeful. She believes he is at work, but community as a whole may not. I see a big pitcher. We eels and what he can do, most citizens who hand down death penalties while serving on a jury would rather forget about the whole thing. But in this case, the jurors didn't. They just could not forget. and. That's why three months after the trial concluded, they traveled two hundred miles to mark the third anniversary of the shootings. The community welcome them with open arms. Lots of food retail. The gathered outside around the stone monument in Bogota about two miles from where the crimes began back in two thousand seventeen. Jury, forewoman Nicole. Becker told the crowd that going home after the trial was like entering an alternate universe. Our work was done. And our hearts, a piece of our heart for down here. She also told victims, family members and law enforcement officers. The jurors were astonished by what they saw in court. You all such a calmness in in varying often you up there on. Stand out there and. Help Heltzel knee. And focus on what we needed to focus on the task that we did. Sean Blackwill father a victim Jordan Blackwell acknowledged the difficult role of the jurors. What happened on that night? During the fifteen days, he was in charge of the jurors bailiff. Charles Campbell got to know them pretty well well enough to make some suggestions. We thought it was best for them to come together and pray every day before we left. There they had a big job to do. Jury members Mildred Williams and Anna McDonald said the whole group was in agreement sprayed together like a family, and that's what we became a family. We do not leave there in the morning without prayer. Different one different one took turns with different people crying jurors also acknowledged their dependence on God behind the Mike at the memorial event. So did other speakers like Sean Blanket? Come today just to remember the great. We came to celebrate God. Let us live through this tragedy, and still serve God and love one another a guitar player saying of Heavenly Hope. Soloist who lost two nephews in the shooting testified about our great. How? Xinhua and Tiffany's family join them on stage. Then came the moving finale. Germany Keaton who came up with? The idea of releasing paper lanterns as she watched them rise in the night sky. She smiled and hugged her friendly. This is a this is a sign of hope. And Healing and restoration in this community to close out the evening. Tracy Dir joined in Duet. She's the widow of the deputy who was gobbled first victim. The words were powerful. Thing is. To razz able was at the anniversary event to in front of a camera. She still pumping out. Daily News reports but she admits this story. The story behind Mississippi's largest mass killing changed her life. Through my career I've built up this thing where I was bulletproof and you know I'm there at the scene and I'm not scared. And there's hurricanes and tornadoes and I'm in the middle. But this was the first thing that I couldn't just put in a box. Corey Godbolt is scheduled for execution July fifteenth. But records at the Lincoln County Circuit Clerk's office. Indicating appeal is underway. That likely means another layer of grief for the community to process. One that hovers out there in the future waiting. But one thing is for certain. This mass shooting taught a hard lesson. It showed that domestic abuse is just a matter of private concern. Left unstopped. It can turn into a public nightmare. I don't want them to ever be forgotten. because I mean even I. Refer to it as the core. Godbolt case. But it's not. It's William her. It's Barbara Mitchell Brennan May to Karume. Austin Edwards Jordan Blackwell Sheila and Farrell barrage. Reporting for world I'm Cam Henderson and South Mississippi. A community grief written by Kim Henderson our producer is Paul Butler script editing JC Derek technical assistance by Johnny Franklin a very special. Thank you to journalists terrace able and all of the family members who made time to tell us their stories. If you have a moment, please let us know what you think about this kind of long form storytelling, you can reach us on our listener feedback line at two, zero, two, seven, zero, nine, nine, five, nine five, or you can write us at feedback at world and everything. Dot Com. Thank you for listening to this special presentation of world radio. I'm nick.