‘I just want justice’: Talladega mothers searching for answers to unsolved murders

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TALLADEGA, Ala. (WIAT) — In Talladega, the mothers of unsolved murder victims are banding together in hopes of drawing more attention to their loved ones’ cases.

Laravous Cole

In Talladega, a city with over 15,000 people, had nine homicides in 2020, up from the four reported the previous year. This year, there have already been two killings.

Family members of recent victims are frustrated, as the six recent cases remain open.

“At the end of the day, I just want justice for what was done to my son,” said Larissa O’Neal, who lost her 20-year-old son Laravous Cole in March.

O’Neal was forced to listen to her child’s final moments.

“I called him at 10:30,” O’Neal continued. “Before he hung up, I heard, bang, bang, bang, bang. And that was it.”

Cole was found shot in his recently purchased car, which was found with dozens of bullet holes in the front, back, and sides.

“I cry in the morning when I get up. I cry when I go to bed. It is three meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I cry,” O’Neal said.

Benitez O’Bryan Evans

Other families are also experiencing similar pain. Carrie Pointer lost her son, Benitez O’Bryan Evans, in November.

“Nothing been done to stop these crimes. Nothing. We don’t even have hope,” Pointer said.

Evans’ case is still under investigation by the Talladega Police Department. No arrests have been made.

“Momma ain’t going to stop,” Pointer said.

In addition to the deaths of Evans and Cole, investigators are still working to close four other cases. The deaths of 43-year-old Carlos Fields, 21-year-old Cecil Adair Jr., 17-year-old Johnny Williams, and 35-year-old Davian Beck are all open cases.

“Every time I go and see them, they tell me, we know who killed Benitez. We just have to prove it,” Pointer said.

Talladega Police Department needs the community’s help

Interim Talladega Police Chief John McCoy is only a few months into his new job, but he is a veteran of the investigations division. McCoy was promoted to interim chief after former Chief Jason Busby retired. He’s now working to close some of the open cases.

Interim Talladega Police Chief John McCoy

“We’ve got a few cases where we do have some key witnesses. They will not talk to us,” McCoy said.

McCoy said the department needs the community to help them solve these cases. He said it is frustrating that potential witnesses will talk to family members or others, but will not share crucial information with police.

“They will tell people in the streets of what they saw or what they heard, what happened, and then the information will get back to us and we will go pick them up and they’ll be like, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about,'” he said.

McCoy said the department works with the Talladega County Violent Crimes Unit and has recently reached out to state and federal partners on some of their open cases.

“We have asked their assistance in reviewing some of these cases,” he said.

Carlos Fields

There are plans in the works that could help investigators. Law enforcement agencies from across the county will soon meet with Crime Stoppers in hopes of being included in the organization that helps bring in tips by offering a reward. In addition, the Talladega City Council recently approved the purchase of gunshot detection technology, similar to the “Shot Spotter” system that is used in Birmingham. McCoy said it should be installed in the next few weeks, but said neighbors still have a role to play.

“We need community help to solve these cases. You may not know, but you may know the person that does. Call us and tell us, ‘Hey, call and talk to this person, go and talk to this person, they know what happened,'” he said.

While families understand the importance of witnesses, they want to make sure officers are turning over every stone.

“They need to get out. Foot walk. Knock on some doors. Question people. Stop waiting on people to bring them information in their office,” Pointer said.

Other parents of homicide victims believe more needs to be done to bridge the gap between police and the community.

Cecil Adair Jr.

“The police have to get on foot to come out and gain the trust in the community because people will talk,” said Larissa O’Neal.

McCoy said neighbors may not notice officers patrolling, because some are in unmarked vehicles. He said the department is working to recruit and hire more officers in hopes of doing more community outreach.

McCoy said the department is planning on holding community meetings to address concerns. He too wants to help take offenders off the streets and hopes the community will do its part to end suffering for victims’ families.

“To some degree, some of them are going to remain open, until somebody gets painted into a corner and they have to play that last hand,” he said.

In general, McCoy described Talladega as a safe place to live, but has recently had problems that the said the department is working to address.

“We do have a, I guess a significant gang problem, but ours is divided between the east side of town and the west side of town,” he said.

Some of the victims’ families have complained about camera systems that are in place near some of the recent murders in the Knoxville Homes community.

“There’s a camera sitting right back there and I just knew that they was going to be able to tell me who killed my son by the cameras, but they couldn’t tell me anything,” Pointer said.

Johnny Williams

McCoy said the cameras are operated by the Talladega Housing Authority. Officers have attempted to use the surveillance footage captured on them.

“We have had success with some of the video, but some of the video, it’s so dark in some of those areas that you’re not going to be able to tell anything about it anyway. So there are some issues, maybe some better lighting, better positioning, but all in all I think that camera system is a good quality system,” he said.

While cameras are an important tool to aid in investigations, McCoy cautioned against the department being too reliant on the technology.

“You could have cameras at every corner and someone will figure out how to get around them,” he said.

McCoy said detectives are continuing work on solving open cases. He said the department will also do whatever it can to protect privacy and encourage tips from those who may be scared to share information.

“We can meet them at a neutral location. We can go out of town and meet them. We can meet them wherever they feel comfortable,” he said.

Davian Beck

Victim families organize in fight for justice

Several mothers who have lost a son or daughter met this week to discuss plans to organize efforts to seek justice. Pastors and community leaders are also a part of the conversation to help reach youth.

“They’re going to grow up to teenagers. They’re going to grow up to adults and if we don’t snatch them now the streets will snatch them. The faith based community must step forward. We can not be complacent any longer,” said Phoebe Presson, who is a part of the outreach ministry for the 5th Episcopal District of the CME Church.

Presson meets with families each week as a part of a community transportation ministry.

“Every Sunday, I have 73 kids and what I do is I get out to them, I develop a relationship with them, with their parents, with their grandparents,” she said.

Community leaders have stressed the importance of identifying goals for youth and how to accomplish those goals.

“We want to tell them that you could be entrepreneurs, you could be business owners, you could do the president, you can do whatever you want to do. So as leaders, we not only teach about faith, about Christ, but we also teach you life skills,” Presson said.

Larissa O’Neal believes other parents need to reach out to their children to learn what they’re involved in.

“To the mother’s out here that know that their kids are doing things. Don’t take up for them,” said O’Neal.

As more time passes, families will continue to lean on one another and their faith as they wait for the justice system to do its’ part.

“I ain’t going to stop praying. I believe in prayer and I believe God is going to answer my prayer and he is going to bring it to pass whoever killed my child,” Pointer said.

Talladega mayor promises city support

Talladega Mayor Timothy Ragland joined interim Chief McCoy and CBS 42 for an interview about the recent crime, where he promised city support to the department to help them solve some of the recent crimes. Ragland’s request for gunshot detection technology was approved by the city council in March, but two other proposals were tabled.

Talladega Mayor Timothy Ragland

“The second was a coloration between the city and the surrounding municipalities, called ‘Public Safety Partnership, and that would be between the DA and the local government and it was an agreement to allow federal agencies to come in and help where they are needed,” Ragland said.

Ragland said he has also suggested using a system that allows public and private groups to connect security cameras to a network system, similar to what is used in Montgomery.

“They have what they call a ‘Watch Program’ and it is video surveillance to provide a comprehensive view of the city. Private citizens, businesses, schools, they can all allow their camera feeds to feed into one system that is run by the police department and the city can receive it anywhere or anytime,” he said.

While both proposals have not been taken up by the council, Ragland hopes the issues will be revisited.

“They see what is going on in our community. And the police department needs help, these families need help, and if we want Talladega to be as great as it can be, we need to take action and not be lackadaisical,” Ragland said.

CBS 42 asked Interim Chief McCoy about the status of the 2020 and 2021 cases and received the following information from TPD:

2020 homicide cases:

Keuan Hall, 21, killed January 27, 2020
Closed. Ruled justifiable by the Talladega County District Attorneys Office. Closed justifiable self defense district attorney.

Nijah Curry, 22, killed April 7, 2020
Pending. Case is active. Witnesses have been reported as uncooperative.

Patrick Swain, 36, killed April 8, 2020
Pending, but primary person of interest was found deceased in another jurisdiction.

Corneisha Burton, 28, killed May 15, 2020
Arrest made, according to Interim Chief McCoy.

Joseph McClain, 69, killed July 31, 2020
Pending. Arrest made, but suspect was not indicted by a grand jury.

Corvius Barclay, 41, killed August 3, 2020
Arrest made, according to Interim Chief McCoy

Davian Beck, 35, killed November 10, 2020
Pending.

Johnny Williams, 17, killed November 3, 2020
Pending.

Benitez Evans, 36, killed November 15, 2020
Pending.

Cecil Adair, 21, killed December 19, 2020
Pending.

2021 homicide cases:

Carlos Fields, 43, killed Jan. 31
Pending.

LaRavous Cole, 20, killed 3.26.2021
Pending.

To submit a tip to the Talladega Police Department, click here.

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