Nine months after 19-year-old Faith Hedgepeth died, her family and tribe still wait for answers.
Hedgepeth, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe and a junior attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was found dead at about 11 a.m. on Friday, September 7 in her off-campus apartment. She was last seen alive at about 3 a.m. that day after she and her roommate returned home from a nightclub.
Investigators have not released a cause of death.
“We don’t have any answers, so we don’t have closure,” said Rolanda Hedgepeth, Faith’s older sister. “It’s very hard.”
Records have been sealed since Hedgepeth’s death, and a superior court judge on May 14 ordered all the records—including 911 calls and search warrants—to be resealed for another 60 days.
Police in January released information about DNA evidence, which pointed to a male suspect who likely knew Hedgepeth, made comments about her and may have lived nearby. Police have not named a suspect or made any arrests.
“The police are as open as they can be without compromising the investigation,” Hedgepeth said.
The Chapel Hill Police Department did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. In a previous interview, Sgt. Josh Mecimore said the case is sensitive and releasing the evidence might hurt the investigation.
“When we’re questioning people, there are certain things only a person involved would know,” he said. “If we don’t release information, it helps us to know whether people were involved or if they just heard it or read it in the media.”
The Chapel Hill community has gathered several times since the murder to honor Hedgepeth and prompt people to keep helping with the investigation. Powwows were held in her honor at the university and in tribal buildings, Hedgepeth said. Other events like blood drives and public performances helped memorialize her. (Related story: “UNC at Chapel Hill Pow Wow Honors Death of Young Native Student”)
Scholarships and awards have also emerged in her name.
“The support is helping,” Hedgepeth said. “We’re still hopeful. We’re not giving up.”
Hedgepeth leaves behind her parents, Connie and Roland Hedgepeth; a brother, Chad; a sister, Rolanda; and a half-brother, Caleb. She is remembered for her caring personality and dedication to her tribe and community, said Alfred Richardson, tribal administrator.
“She was an exceptional student who was deeply involved in her culture,” he said. “She wanted to give back to her community. Many of our young people get their degrees and leave the area. Faith wanted to return and work here.”
The Haliwa-Saponi Tribe is the third-largest American Indian tribe in North Carolina, comprising about 4,300 people living within a 10-mile radius. The murder shocked the tight-knit community, and the lack of information about the case has become a concern, Richardson said.
“The general perception from the community is that there is little action,” he said. “The family is in the forefront of our minds, in our prayers. Until they find the perpetrator, there is no closure.”
The tribe has hosted several events to keep the case in the limelight, Richardson said.
“The fear is that, as time goes on, it fades while the family still is in pain,” he said. “Statistically, it becomes one more unsolved murder, and that is devastating. The police officers are doing the best they can, but at the end of the day, there’s a mother and father who lost a daughter, a brother and sister who lost a sibling.”
The family is asking for continued support and for anyone with information to come forward.
“I’m still asking people to keep her in their prayers,” Hedgepeth said of her sister. “We just want justice for Faith.”
Anyone with information should call the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-614-6363 or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515. Calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential, and callers may be eligible for a reward of up to $39,000. Written information can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.