MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 26th. We’re so glad you’ve joined us today! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Moving forward after unimaginable loss. Yesterday we began a four-part serial about a small Mississippi town with a dubious distinction: it was the scene of the largest mass killing in the history of the state.
Eight people died at the hand of 35-year old Cory Godbolt. But they weren’t the only victims. The killings shattered dozens of families. WORLD correspondent Kim Henderson continues with their story.
AMBI: LOW SOUND OF APEL TALKING
Lincoln County law enforcement officers were familiar with Cory Godbolt. They also knew journalist Therese Apel. She cut her teeth there as a young reporter, and she was a friend of the slain deputy. So when she arrived at the crime scenes, officers let her move in close. But even she wasn’t expecting what happened at her last stop.
APEL: I’m pulling up to 312 East Lincoln, um, I see him on his knees and getting onto the ground. This is Godbolt, four deputies around him. One of them has just tossed his gun to the side, and he’s not handcuffed yet . . .
Apel was the only media on the scene, and all she had was her cellphone. So she walked the perimeter holding it down low, trying to get the lighting right.
APEL: I see Corey kind of turn his head. And as soon as he sees me . . .
Audio here is courtesy of Apel and The Clarion-Ledger.
GODBOLT AT SCENE
GOLDBOLT: I love my wife. I love my kids. They would not let me live and let live. I just wanted to live. I just wanted to love my family. I just wanted to love my wife . . .
Apel’s phone was low on storage, so she was deleting pictures and apps as she went…she ended up with a string of videos and a full confession.
APEL: Right after someone has committed a murder, there is energy, there’s an evil energy that rolls off them . . . I wasn’t afraid to face him, but there was this feeling of like, like it’s in your chest, you just feel so little and so helpless and so unable to make sense of what’s going on. . .
That weekend, as news of the shooting made headlines across the nation, I sent an email to my editor, Marvin Olasky. I let him know I lived near where it happened. He wrote me back with a question that’s rumbled around in my head ever since: How does such a small community deal with so much grief?
AMBI: SOUND OF A COMMERCIAL PLAYING
Lincoln County, Mississippi, is rustic and rambling, with cattle auctions every Tuesday and a steady stream of 18-wheelers pulling out from the Walmart Distribution Center. Public schools get lots of support, there’s a community newspaper. The county seat, Brookhaven, has a thriving downtown area.
APEL: It’s just a place that no matter which side of the tracks you live on . . . there’s a real sense of community (KH: And it’s not the place you expected to have a mass murder.) No, and I think that’s been, that was one of the things that really rocked me at the beginning . . .
In the aftermath of the tragedy, expressions of grief in the community ran the spectrum.
PRAYER VIDEO [Keep low and bring up]
AMBI: SOUND OF PRAYING
Residents covered the slain deputy’s patrol car with flowers. Funeral goers filled and spilled out of the school gymnasium. A pastor led prayer in a driveway near one of the crime scenes.
[Bring previous clip up to 03:39 “In Jesus’ great name we pray. Amen.”]
The youngest of the victims was Austin Edwards—11 years old. Just days before the shootings, he’d gone running with Cory Godbolt, a family friend and relative by marriage. Austin was excited. Cory had taught him how to manage his breathing while they jogged through the neighborhood down the street from the boy’s church.
A prosecutor would later point out the irony in court: Cory was the one who took Austin’s breath away forever.
AMBI: SOUND OF INTERVIEW ARRIVAL
Austin’s mother, Shayla Edwards, remembers what it was like to shop for a suit to bury him in.
EDWARDS: It hit me at that moment that this was the last time I’d be able to shop for my son . . . his favorite color is blue, so I wanted him to have a, uh, something blue. . . . I just started crying, and I couldn’t stop crying . . .
A woman in the store walked up to Shayla. She’d seen the story on the news.
EDWARDS: She stopped in the middle of what she was doing, and she prayed for me . . .
Some in the community seemed set on revenge. Within weeks, Godbolt’s home burned to the ground.
But one potential source of conflict did not take root: racial division. Godbolt is black, and seven of his victims were black. The slain deputy was white. And this is 20-17. The wounds of Ferguson, and police deaths in Dallas and Baton Rouge, were still raw.
Apel says officers later told her they were glad she witnessed Godbolt’s capture.
APEL: They didn’t do anything untoward during the whole time. I didn’t see one of them lay a hand on him wrong. I didn’t see one of them even speak to him harshly.
Through her reporting, Apel told the world about a community grief.
APEL: One of the most beautiful things to me about this was watching how this community came together around these families. And it did not matter who was black or who was white . . . It was all one family. Lincoln County was a family. . . there was a lot that was changed by the trauma and the sadness. But I think that love that was shown, um, amongst the people that, that lost the most really inspired the rest of the community to love one another better.
Meanwhile, the tragedy took a toll on the families of the eight victims—children were afraid to be alone, parents were unable to work, students dropped out of college, a mother moved away to escape the memories.
JORDAN VIDEO (start, then play beneath)
AMBI: SOUND OF SPORTS ANNOUNCER
Shayla Edwards’ sister, Tiffany Blackwell, also lost a son in the shootings—18-year-old Jordan, a football standout who died shielding his cousin from bullets.
BLACKWELL: Sometimes I get up, and I can get dressed and I’m fine. And then the next moment, uh, on my way to work I’ll hear a song or see something that reminds me of Jordan and Austin and I just cry the rest of, you know, the way to work . . .
The murders happened in May. By that August, preacher’s kids Shayla and Tiffany were ready to do something positive with their grief. With the help of a friend, they decided on a prayer group—they named it: “United in Christ Against Violence.”
EDWARDS: So we meet, um, across the railroad track, across from, um, what’s the name of that? (Blackwell: The Chamber of Commerce) The Chamber of Commerce, and we just sit out there and we pray.
BLACKWELL: We pray for the children in the community, the teachers, the churches, the pastors . . .
By the time the group got going, the T-V cameras that had converged on Lincoln County after the murders were long gone. They missed those meetings. They missed the push to name a stretch of highway in memory of William Durr, the deputy who died. They missed Shon Blackwell’s Facebook Live video . . . the one of him in the parking lot, praying before going into Godbolt’s preliminary hearing.
No, they didn’t get to watch what was coming to the surface, but Apel did. God was bringing beauty from ashes.
APEL: You couldn’t have picked a more beautiful family for this to have happened to you . . . You see that smile on Tiffany and Shayla’s faces, and you would never know the pain that they carry.
That’s good, because Tiffany, Shayla, and their families would soon need all the support they could get . . . to seek justice.
EICHER: WORLD Correspondent Kim Henderson returns tomorrow with part three in our serial: “A Community Grief.” If you missed the first part, you can find in at worldandeverything dot org.
Next time, a front row seat at the trial.