CHAPEL HILL, NC — On September 7, 2012, the extraordinarily triumphant life of Faith Hedgepeth, 19, ended in extraordinary tragedy when someone raped and murdered the UNC scholarship student in her apartment — someone who, all these years later, has never been identified, let alone caught.
Born in 1992, Faith Hedgepeth was a member of Haliwa-Saponi Native American tribe.
While in school, Hedgepeth regularly scored major academic and extracurricular achievements, ultimately winning a Gates Millennium Scholarship to attend the University of Chapel Hill at North Carolina. The Gates prize put Hedgepeth on track to be the first person in her family to graduate from college. Horrifically, that was not to be.
Early into her third year at UNC, Faith Hedgepeth began the night she died by attending a rush meeting for Alpha Pi Omega, a traditionally Native American sorority.
Afterward, Hedgepeth and her roommate Karena Rosario studied for several hours at UNC’s Davis Library before heading home. At around 12:30 A.M., the two friends went to Thrill, a dance club that admitted undergraduates. Security video shows them leaving at 2:06 A.M.
Back at Hedgepeth’s off-campus apartment complex, a neighbor in the unit below said she heard three loud, thumping sounds at 3 A.M. Forty minutes later, someone used Hedgepeth’s phone to text her ex-boyfriend, Brandon Edwards:
“Hey b. Can you come over hear? Rosario needs you more aha. You know. Please let her know you care.”
Rosario, in the meantime, went back out and said she left the apartment’s front door unlocked. She and another friend, Marisol Rangel, returned at 11 A.M. and discovered Hedgepeth’s body.
Rosario claims she immediately dialed 911, but questions have arisen as to whether Rangel might have been the caller and claimed to be her friend — the first in a series of puzzles that continue to plague this ongoing mystery.
“I’M NOT STUPID
Suspicions turned immediately to Eriq Takoy Jones, Karena Rosario’s ex-boyfriend, for an array of seemingly convincing reasons.
In the months leading up to the murder, Jones had allegedly been physically abusive to Rosario, which prompted their breakup. In July 2012, Hedgepeth told Rosario to take out a restraining order against Jones after he violently kicked two doors off their hinges in the women’s apartment.Reportedly, Jones blamed Hedgepeth for that decision and investigators later noted that he “considered [Hedgepeth] a barrier to his relationship with Rosario.” A police warrant further explicitly states that Jones told others he would “kill” Hedgepeth if he and Rosario didn’t get back together.
The day before Hedgepeth died, Jones asked a buddy via text to forgive him for “what I am about to do.” He also posted the same message on Twitter.
Then, just hours prior to the murder, Jones changed his Facebook cover photo to read:
“Dear Lord. Forgive me for all of my sins and the sins I may commit today. Protect me from the girls who don’t deserve me and the ones who wish me dead today.”
After some resistance, Jones supplied investigators with a DNA sample. Somewhat shockingly, it did not match the DNA gathered at the crime scene. As a result, police eliminated Eriq Takoy Jones as a suspect and returned to square one.
After years of dead ends, in 2016, authorities released a voicemail from Faith Hedgepeth’s phone that is believed to have been an accidental “pocket dial.”
Although mostly inaudible, some analysts believe the recording may document the final moments of Hedgepeth’s life. Among them is forensic audio expert Arlo West, whose testimony is regularly called upon by attorneys and law enforcement. West has stated that, on the tape, he hears Hedgepeth repeatedly cry for help, along with a male voice and a “very angry female” who engage in some chilling, expletive-riddled dialogue.
According to West, the female voice says:
“I’m going to kick your face … Don’t be a [weakling], put up a fight!”
Further on in the tape, West claims, he hears the male voice say, “I think she’s dying,” to which the female replies, “Do it anyhow!”
Most explosively, West told a TV reporter:
“I hear the name ‘Eric,’ clearly. I hear the name ‘Rosie.’”
The call is time-stamped at 1:23 A.M., however, and at that point, Hedgepeth and Rosario were still at the nightclub. Chapel Hill police have said that that evidence eliminates the possibility that the pocket-dial went out during the murder.
West, in turn, stands by his analysis. He says that documented software problems with Hedgepeth’s brand of cellphone had been routinely resulting in inaccurate time-stamps. Nonetheless, the authorities seemed uninterested in pursuing the voicemail further.Related: Where Is Jesse Ross? Student Still Missing After Vanishing During 2006 College Trip
Later in 2016, Chapel Hill authorities released a computer-generated facial image of what a possible person of interest might look like. Using the phenotype found in the male DNA at the murder site, a program called Snapshot created an image that “predicts eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, face morphology, and ancestry.”
Ellen Greytak, director of Bioinformatics at Parabon NanoLabs, said of the high-tech composite sketch:
“You can be very confident that this is not a white person. This is not a person of African descent. This is a person who is very strongly Native American and European mixed ancestry or Latino.”
Regardless, the CGI face, to date, has produced no new leads. So far, police have received hundreds of tips and interviewed more than 2,000 individuals regarding the murder, and it remains an open and active investigation.
Anyone with any information is asked to please contact the Chapel Hill Police Department’s tip line dedicated to the Faith Hedgepeth case: 1 (919) 968-2834.
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Main photo: Faith Hedgepeth [American-Indian Center, UNC Chapel Hill]