As police search for leads in the September killing of 22-year-old Johnathan Murphy, his family searches for a way forward without a son, brother, and father.
“Investigators have questioned multiple people in connection with the homicide, but have yet to uncover any direct evidence linking anyone to the case,” said Captain Kim Monroe of the Laurinburg Police Department. “Investigators have been asking for information, but are not getting cooperation in the matter. “
Murphy was killed early in the morning of Sept. 21, gunned down in a Lincoln Street yard around the corner from his home. The shooting was one of several that night. Earlier in the evening, 37-year-old Michael McLean was shot and seriously injured outside of Brothers in the Hood Market, and a drive-by shooting at a Hickory Street home hit an 8-year-old girl sleeping inside. Both victims have since been released from the hospital, and arrests were made in both cases.
Ryan Henderson, a friend and neighbor of the Murphys, was with him a scant hour prior to the shooting.
“Every day he hung around me and my mother because my mother talked to his uncle, all this is family around here,” said Henderson. “I was staying with my mother and he would come and sit with me and we’d watch a little TV. He was so happy; he was smiling all day that day. He told me he was going back to the store.”
From a convenience store within walking distance of his neighborhood, Murphy never made it back to the Lincoln Street home he shared with his mother, girlfriend, and children. Murphy’s mother, Santania Murphy, heard gunshots five minutes before her son’s 2 a.m. curfew.
“For some reason, that particular night, I just had a strange feeling come over me, she said.
The policeman who met Santania Murphy as she ventured out of her home in the direction of the gunfire was an acquaintance, having worked with her cousin in the Laurinburg Police Department.
“When you’re partners, I guess you’re close and you meet each other’s families, and he was the one who met me that night to say ‘Don’t go up there, Tania,’ and I lost it from then,” she said. “I can’t get out of my mind my baby lying on the ground.”
A dozen bullet wounds riddled Murphy’s body, including wounds in his head, jaw, and temple. He was buried on Sept. 30, his name the latest in a list of Scotland County homicides including the stabbing deaths of Arthur and Tammy Wright of Laurel Hill and the shootings of Larry Goodwin and Jennifer Easterling in Laurinburg earlier this year.
Scotland County’s murder rate relative to population is higher than the state average and one of the highest in North Carolina. In 2011, the violent crime rate was 479.1 per 100,000 of population. Statewide, the average is 354.6.
Last year, seven murders were reported in Scotland County, several in the form of shootings in the area of Virginia Square shopping center in North Laurinburg, where Brothers in the Hood Market is housed. In August 2011, two other men were injured in shootings there, but their injuries were not fatal. Per 100,000 people, the average 2011 murder rate in North Carolina counties was 5.4.
Santania Murphy never intended for her son to become a statistic. Rendered hemiplegic after suffering a series of strokes last year, her son Johnathan was integral to her daily life.
“When I first came home from the hospital, they wanted to put me in an assisted living program, but my son said no, my mama took care of us, so I’m taking care of her,” Murphy said. “John was the one who went to Scotland Memorial Hospital to learn how to teach me how to walk again and teach me how to move my arms.”
In fact, Murphy believes that her dreams for her son may have contributed to his death, as she had purchased a home for his family and a new car for him to drive to work.
“I did for John and his girlfriend because they’re young and they needed guidance. I think jealousy plays a big role in Johnathon’s murder, because I didn’t want my sons selling drugs,” she said. “I didn’t think they were better than other children, I just wanted to give them a fighting chance. Just because you live in this part of town doesn’t mean that you have to be a part of what’s going on in this part of town.”
Murphy has two other children: a daughter in Colorado and a son who lives and works locally, but the loss of Johnathan will hit hard this Christmas.
“We had a tradition with the Christmas tree, and I didn’t want that tree in the house because it was our tradition tree,” she said. “On Christmas Eve, we always put the star on top of the tree, put the lights on, and open one gift. I couldn’t bring myself to put that tree back up, because he was the star-putter. I went and bought all new ornaments, because it just hurt so bad.”
Murphy’s son is also survived by his girlfriend and two children, five-year-old Jaquaisia and two-year-old Jonquez, with another on the way.
“His children loved the ground he walked on,” said Murphy. “My granddaughter makes me sad; she says she wishes she knew magic, and it’s real sad because she says ‘I would bring my daddy back, grandma.’ She goes to school and she has little breakdowns because she doesn’t like to cry in front of me and her mother, so she goes to school and cries.”
Along with his mother, Johnathan Murphy’s close friends believe that they know who killed him.
“He never really fooled around the guys that we know deep down in our hearts did that to him, he didn’t really talk to them,” Henderson said. “He’d always be around with his kids, his girl, his dog - he was no bad person. The same guys that we think in our hearts did it used to see John walk down these steps and walk to the store by the same house he died in front of. They’d be sitting out there all ‘What’s up ya’ll.’ We’re like “What’s up,” but we keep moving. They see this guy walking with his kids and they turn around and do this to him. That’s not right.”
The fact that no arrests have been made in her son’s case has led Murphy to fear for the safety of her grandchildren and of others.
“I’m not the only parent who’s going through this, and something has got to be done to make us feel more at ease as parents,” Murphy said. “I may be paralyzed, but I own my home. I’m supposed to feel comfortable sending my five-year-old grandchild and my two-year-old grandchild outside to play, but I’m not, because with drugs people want to stand on corners. Anything can happen: robberies, murder.”
So far, police have received little cooperation from neighbors who may have witnessed the shooting. The same holds true in other unsolved killings in Laurinburg, including the shooting of clerk Yasin Geedi behind the #1 Convenience Store last year.
“The common denominator would be fear of retaliation,” Monroe said. “When people come forth with information they want to know that they’re going to be protected to some degree. Over the years it has become increasingly difficult to do that, and the community is aware of that.”
The residents of the house in the yard where Johnathan Murphy was killed maintain that they heard nothing that night.
“When certain people give information it becomes difficult for us to conceal the identity of that person and that has been a major obstacle for us,” said Monroe. “What the courts call an open discovery issue - it’s very likely that they would have to testify and their identity could possibly be revealed even before testifying.”
Murphy’s family and friends, though, equate justice for Johnathan’s killing with a step forward in improving life in Laurinburg’s typically low-income neighborhoods.
“It really eats me alive to see these guys around here that know something, and nobody wants to speak up and tell,” Henderson said. “I don’t want to be a bad guy and start cutting up because that ain’t going to help nothing, but I’d rather deep down in my heart see justice come.”
“Bringing them to justice is never going to bring Johnathan back,” Murphy added. “What is closure? How do you get closure when you can’t bring your 22-year-old son back who’s supposed to be living his life, who died on Thursday night at 1:56, who’s supposed to start a new job on Monday morning?”
Murphy said that her son’s death is one part of a vicious cycle that fractures families and inures children and young people to violence.
“We have a generation coming up behind us,” she said. “What do you say? Your daddy may go to the store, he may never come back? Every day at 2:30, he would go pick his daughter up from school, so she was used to this. That’s why the children are taking it so hard - they were so used to him being here doing things with them. What do you tell three and four and five year olds when their young fathers pass? What do you tell them when their daddy is shot or killed? Everybody’s not good and everybody’s not bad; we all have our faults, we are human.”
In the hope of drawing out information in Johnathan’s case, Murphy has offered a $500 reward, but she finds herself at a loss to counter a culture of violence.
“There’s something that has to be done to deter these people,” Murphy said. “If they’re selling drugs, get them off the street, because drugs bring guns. It’s just awful. You don’t know if you can sit outside. After dark you definitely can’t walk to the store. Martin Luther King fought for us to have equality, to walk down the street without any repercussions. Now you mean you’re going to start killing one another?”
Anyone with information in the shooting of Jonathan Murphy should call Detective Jeremy White at 280-5441 or Santania Murphy at 318-4894.