More than 1,450 days have passed since 19-year-old Faith Hedgepeth was brutally beaten and murdered. Her sister, Rolanda Hedgepeth, has felt every one of them.“Every day is hard,” Rolanda said in a phone interview. “The whole year is hard, but it’s worse if you look at it a day at a time.”
Faith, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe and a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was found dead in her off-campus apartment on September 7, 2012. Four long years later, the police still haven’t named suspects or made arrests.
It’s enough to make anyone lose hope, Rolanda said. But as Faith’s family and friends mark another year without answers, they are making a deliberate decision to remain optimistic.
“I’m hopeful,” Rolanda said. “We’re always hopeful. We’ll never give up. We’re hoping for closure and justice, and we’ll get it.”
Rolanda isn’t the only one conscious of passing time. The Chapel Hill Police Department, the agency tasked with solving the murder, works on the case every day, said Lt. Celisa Lehew, a 13-year veteran of the police department who took over as head of investigations earlier this year.
“It consumes us,” she said. “We work on it every day, dedicating many hours to it every week.”
Rolanda Hedgepeth, left, and her mother, Connie hold a photograph of Faith.
Lehew said the police department has never considered Faith’s murder a cold case.
“We have new leads and we continue with the old ones,” she said. “It’s not a matter of if but when we solve this. This was a horrible incident and we are passionate about it. We are going to bring this person or people to justice.”
During the last four years, police have interviewed nearly 2,000 individuals, said Lt. Josh Mecimore, the public information officer at the Chapel Hill Police Department. Investigators have gathered hundreds of DNA samples.
“We’ve talked to everyone Faith was in contact with, then it spread out from there,” he said. “The list keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
According to police records that were unsealed nearly two years after the incident, Faith was beaten so severely that medical examiners concluded the cause of death was blunt-force trauma. The autopsy report also detailed cuts and bruises on Faith’s arms and legs and blood under her fingernails.
Nearby, police found a handwritten note on a fast-food bag that said, “I’m not stupid bitch. Jealous.” A rape kit was performed, which revealed the presence of semen. DNA generated from the semen matched other DNA recovered from the crime scene.
Yet police are still looking for that last piece of information to link DNA evidence to a suspect, Mecimore said.
“We have all this DNA evidence, but we still need the name,” he said. “Someone knows who did this. We’re just waiting for that person to come forward.”
Meanwhile, police officers and Faith’s family have entered into a sort of uneasy relationship, bonded together in the pain of an unsolved murder, Rolanda said. For her, the pain ebbs and flows throughout the year, reaching its height as the anniversary of her sister’s death approaches.
“I hate this time of year,” she said. “The pain usually starts the middle of August and lasts through the middle of September. It’s just so sad.”
Rolanda describes her sister as bubbly, outgoing and enthusiastic about life. Faith, who was poised to become the first college graduate in her family, received a Gates Millennium Scholarship and planned to be a pediatrician or teacher. She was three weeks shy of her 20th birthday when she was killed.
Faith Hedgepeth is buried in a small church cemetery near her mother’s home in Hollister, North Carolina.
This year, Rolanda will silently mark the day her sister would have turned 24.
“This time of year is hard for everyone, for the whole family,” she said. “But we keep pushing through it. What else can we do?”
A total of $39,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about the crime can call the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-614-6363 or Crimestoppers at 919-942-7515.