Special Episode: A community grief


NICK EICHER, HOST: Welcome to this special episode of The World and Everything in It

The last week of May we aired a four-part serial story about a community’s grief. It was Memorial Day 2017. A lone gunman snuffed out eight lives in rural Lincoln County, Mississippi. It left area residents reeling.  

WORLD correspondent Kim Henderson tells their story. 

APEL: I’m Therese Apel, here for The Clarion-Ledger . . . 

KIM HENDERSON, CORRESPONDENT: Therese Apel is a career journalist with a resume spanning three decades. 

In 2017, she was working as a crime reporter for Mississippi’s top newspaper when she covered the state’s largest mass shooting.  Her Twitter profile still shows photos of the eight victims.   

APEL: (SIGH) I think it’s a mixture of that being one of the biggest things that’s happened in my life, but also because I don’t want them to ever be forgotten. I’ve got, you know, stuff at the house that will always remind me of, of those days, um, surrounding that.

Her Twitter page also includes a quote from Martin Luther.

APEL: Yeah, it’s “peace if possible, truth at all costs.” And I think as a reporter, um, that’s something that we’ve lost. There are people that are at fault in ways that maybe they didn’t intend, but it was, you know, lax on their part. And then you know, you’ve got the truth of this, which is there are eight lives that were cut short that didn’t need to be.

So what did happen that Memorial Day weekend? Here’s what we know. The shootings took place at three different homes over a span of about 6 hours, and most of the victims were related to the killer by blood or by marriage. 

It all started when 35-year old Cory Godbolt went to his in-laws’ home where his estranged wife, Sheena, was staying. When he said he wanted to take their two children home with him, trouble ensued. Someone called the sheriff’s department. 

After a deputy arrived, there was some discussion, then Godbolt pulled out a gun. He shot at least 32 rounds, killing his mother-in-law, his wife’s sister and aunt…and the deputy.  

About 3 hours later, crime reporter Apel got a call from one of her sources.

APEL: He said, “I just need to make sure you know we’ve got a deputy dead and possibly three others . . . I said, “Wait, what?” And he said, “you might want to get down here.”

So Apel jumped in her car and left the capital metro area headed south

APEL:  —and I was going 105 miles an hour and I had troopers passing me not looking at me, and I knew that was something real . . .

Meanwhile, Godbolt was on his way to the home of his cousin, Shon Blackwell. Shon is a preacher, and he and his wife, Tiffany, spent time with the Godbolts. They encouraged the struggling couple to come to Sunday school and church services. 

But Cory Godbolt resented Tiffany Blackwell’s friendship with his wife. So he got to their house but found out Shon and Tiffany weren’t there. They’d gone to comfort Sheena, Godbolt’s wife, at the first crime scene. 

The house wasn’t empty though. Shon and Tiffany’s son and nephew were there, along with some other children.

APEL: . . . he kills Jordan Blackwell, who is shielding his 15-year-old cousin from the bullets, and he kills Austin Edwards, who’s 11 years old. 

Next, Godbolt headed to the home of Ferral and Sheila Burage–his wife’s cousin. 

APEL: Ferral returns fire, and it’s the only wound that Cory had from that night, but he is outgunned. And then Cory goes to the bathroom where he executes Sheila Burage.

That’s eight shooting victims, all of them dead. 

Godbolt targeted people he believed were interfering in his marriage. In the middle of his rampage, he got on Facebook and sent a message to Tiffany Blackwell. Now, she’s his cousin’s wife, the preacher’s wife. The one who’s just lost a son.

Basically Godbolt told her, “You’ve messed with my family. Now, I’ve messed with yours.”    

AUDIO: [SOUND OF BROADCAST]

2017 went on record as the deadliest year of mass shootings in U.S. history. It’s when a gunman mowed down hundreds at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas—killing 58—and when another madman massacred 26 inside a Texas church. 

While the motives for the Las Vegas shooting are still a mystery, the November attack at First Baptist Sutherland Springs shared a connection with the one that happened five months earlier in Mississippi. In both cases, the shooters had a history of domestic violence. 

A recent study published in Criminology and Public Policy indicates that many mass shootings have a domestic violence thread running through them. In the Sutherland Springs case, the shooter had sent threatening texts to his in-laws, who sometimes attended services at the church. 

In Mississippi, Cory Godbolt had been convicted of assaulting at least two of his wife’s family members.  

APEL: If you look into Godbolt’s past… there were some situations where, you know, the police were called and maybe the charges were dropped or maybe they weren’t. There weren’t charges pressed. Um, I happen to know that a few weeks before this happened Sheena was driving and he was following her and she called the police department.

In other words, there were warning signs—lots of them. It’s one of the tragedies of these crimes. 

THERESE: To me, the whole thing could have been avoided if there would have been in places, you know, maybe some other action taken.

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. 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.

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…and 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…and ah, what was coming off Godbolt as he talked to me in my perception…was just, uh, a feeling I’ve never felt before in talking to someone accused of murder. And it was probably because of the proximity to the homicides themselves.

That weekend, as news of the shootings 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 death?

AUDIO: [SOUND OF A COMMERCIAL] 

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.
APEL: No, and I think that’s been, that was one of the things that really rocked me at the beginning was, um, “how did this happen at home?” I think for the people who have lived here, and lived here all their lives, it was more that. It was: “Whoa. How did we not see this coming? How did we not prevent this? How do we react now that it has happened?”

In the aftermath of the tragedy, expressions of grief in the community ran the spectrum. 

AUDIO: [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. 

PRAYER: “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.

AUDIO: [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…

For Apel, the push to tell victims’ stories drove her.    

APEL: There was, you know, things that stick with you like in, in, in the Blackwell’s home when I walked in to interview them, just a couple of days after it happened…and all I could think was, how do you go on? How do you go on, you know? 

Accusations swirled about the Godbolts’ domestic issues and how authorities had handled them, and 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: People wanted to make a big deal out of, “Oh look, a black man who shot a bunch of people and the cops didn’t kill him,” you know, things like that. 

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. 

This was a county named for Abraham Lincoln by a Reconstruction legislature. A county where, in 1955, someone shot and killed a black voting activist in broad daylight on the courthouse lawn.   

But that was decades ago, and things have changed. 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 also.

Meanwhile, the tragedy took a toll on the families of the eight victimschildren were afraid to be alone, parents were unable to work, students dropped out of college, a mother moved away to escape the memories.  

SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, if we could please ask you to pause for a moment of silence…

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.  

SPORTS ANNOUNCER: And now ladies and gentlemen, as a further tribute to Jordan Blackwell, tonight Jordan’s parents, and his family, but his parents Tiffany and Shon Blackwell will present the game ball to coach Tommy Clockton…

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 across the railroad track, across from—what’s the name of that? 

BLACKWELL: The Chamber of Commerce…
EDWARDS: 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…
EDWARDS: The very first time that we had it, it was so packed full of people from the Sheriff’s department, different police officers. You name it. People came in droves from the community to pray together. So we would pray for 30 minutes, and after the prayer, we close out…

By the time the group got going, the TV 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. I mean, we’re all human, but you see that smile on Tiffany and Shayla’s faces, and you would never know the pain that they carry.

That might be the case, but Tiffany, Shayla, and their families would soon need all the support they could get—to seek justice.  

AUDIO: [SOUND OF RAIN FALLING]

The morning jury selection began in the capital murder trial of Cory Godbolt, the sky thundered. Rain fell in sheets. It was like two-and-a-half years of tears bottled up, coming down all at once. 

The families of Godbolt’s eight victims had waited a long time for justice.   

NEWSCASTER: Willie Cory Godbolt’s alleged rampage ended here…   

Attorneys took five days to settle on jurors. Because of pretrial publicity, all this was done in North Mississippi. The trial took place in a county in the south part of the state, and since jurors were sequestered, every moment counted. Opening arguments started on a Saturday. Court convened on a Sunday. Locals could not recall any other time that had happened.   

Daisy Moore attended the trial. She knew Cory Godbolt because he hung out at her grandmother’s house. But that was before he murdered her nephew. 

MOORE: It’s been an emotional roller coaster…This is a family member, this is someone we grew up with. But then on the other side of it, it’s like…who really is this person? Like, how could you do those things? 

Reporter Therese Apel said the families of victims and witnesses like herself couldn’t wait to get the trial behind them.  

APEL: But you didn’t realize what the trial was going to mean as far as what you’re going to learn, what you’re going to see, who you’re going to see, you know, that kind of thing…

Apel was the first to take the stand. Her video of Godbolt’s confession had become primary evidence. The Clarion-Ledger even sent a lawyer down to protect her source from being named…the one that called her during the night. 

Jurors studied the footage of Godbolt and Apel as it played on a screen at the front of the courtroom. Audio here is courtesy of Apel and The Clarion-Ledger.  

GODBOLT: My intentions was to have y’all to kill me. But I ran out of bullets.

APEL: It’s a good thing they showed mercy.
GODBOLT: Suicide by cop was my intention. I ain’t fit to live, not after what I done. Not in y’all’s eyes or anybody else’s eyes. But God, you know, He forgives you for everything…  

Godbolt watched the video, too, surrounded by a trio of defense attorneys. Instead of prison orange, he got to wear a coat and tie to court each day, as well as a distinguished pair of wide-framed glasses. Shayla Edwards found it difficult to be near him. 

EDWARDS: When you see sitting in front of you, the man that killed your children…it’s kind of hard… 

Judge David Strong warned that it would be an emotional trial, and he was right. Those in the courtroom couldn’t help but react to the frantic 911 calls and gruesome details they heard. Other moments were understated but equally unforgettable, like Sheena Godbolt’s reaction to what the defense called a “happy family photo” of her and her husband with their children. 

“Just because it’s on Facebook doesn’t make it real,” came Sheena’s curt reply.

She said she suffered for years at her husband’s hands, leaving when he abused her but coming back because he swore he’d change. Once he even choked her and beat her so badly she required treatment at the hospital. 

There was testimony of abuse from the Godbolts’ 12-year-old daughter as well. She took the stand just days after an unnerving incident at the trial. During a lunch break, Godbolt somehow managed to beat on the window of a car where his child was seated.   

Myrtis May has health problems, but she made it to the trial anyway. She’s Sheena’s aunt, and she had experienced trouble of her own with Cory. A year before the shootings, the Lincoln County Justice Court convicted him of “simple assault to create fear” against Myrtis May. 

But May wasn’t at the trial because of all that. Or maybe in a way she was. Myrtis May’s daughter, Sheila Burage, was one of the shooting victims. 

During a recess at the trial, May described what it was like to watch her granddaughter weep in the witness stand. 

MAY: I hate to see them in pain, because when this first happened, I was no help to them at all. I mean, they could come cry on my shoulder, and all I could do was cry back. 

But May said she can now give her grandchildren a sense of direction. Six months after the tragedy, she did a deep dive into Scripture. God became her comfort.

MAY: Knowing who He is and how He died for sinners like us…you can’t help but love a God like that…I learned to depend on Him more and more each day. Lean not to your own understanding, but all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path…

Still, she misses taking rides with her daughter and the meals she cooked. May  also mourns the loss of her son-in-law, another one of the eight victims.

MAY: He was my son-in-law, but I always told him, he was my big son, so you know, I miss both of them real, real bad… He loved my daughter. [pause] He loved my daughter.

May has grieved before, but she says this time has been different. 

MAY: It’s a hurt that, that only God can bring you back from.
KH: You feel like He’s doing that?
MAY: I feel like he’s already done that for me.

May, like many others, hoped the trial would bring closure. But after all this time, some in the community were beginning to wonder: Would a conviction be enough to end the bitterness?

ATTORNEY: Now, Ms. Porter, I’m going to show you what has already been put in evidence as D9 (SISTER: OK.) . . .

During the sentencing phase of the trial, the defense highlighted Godbolt’s troubled youth. Jurors heard from Godbolt’s siblings. About how their policeman father died in a shooting at their stepmother’s hands. At one point an attorney asked Godbolt’s sister to identify a photo. 

ATTORNEY: If you’ll look on the screen there. Tell me what that’s a picture of. 

That’s when Godbolt’s sister turned her head and saw the photo, a picture of her and her siblings as children. She broke into a slight smile, but she started to lose her composure, so she closed her eyes and turned away from it. After clearing her throat, she answered the lawyer’s question. 

SISTER: My mother, myself, Chris, Cory, and Kenyatta. 
ATTORNEY: Ms. Porter, do you need a minute?
PORTER: No, I’m okay…

Jurors also listened to Godbolt’s aunt, someone who testified on his behalf but also sang at a victim’s funeral—showing just how much this crime entangled a family tree.    

Then the courtroom encountered a different kind of witness, one who had evangelism on her mind. It was Godbolt’s first grade teacher, sprightly Diane Davis Harris. And she didn’t hold back. 

TEACHER: The purpose of me being here today—Can I stand up, sir? JUDGE: Absolutely.

And everyone in the courtroom was kind of shocked that the judge let her stand up. But she stood up, pointed directly at Godbolt and started talking.  

TEACHER: It does not matter, Cory, whether you live or whether you die. The most important thing you should know today is where you’re going to spend eternity… 
PROSECUTION: Your honor, I’m going to object, I think we’re getting a little outside the realm…

Then, of course, the prosecution objected and she had to sit down. But as she did, she was thanking God that she got that out. 

AUDIO: [SOUND OF CAR SPEEDING AWAY]

Once proceedings ended each day, officers took Godbolt away in a transport vehicle. But on the last night, February 27th, he headed somewhere different: death row at Parchman Penitentiary.  

NEWSCAST: Now to breaking news tonight. Four death sentences handed down by a Pike County jury.

CLERK: We the jury, unanimously find on the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, that the following facts existed at the time of the commission of the capital murder in count one…

As the clerk announced the death penalty four times, people in the courtroom wept, wailed, and rejoiced.  

WOMAN: I went to church with all of them. All I can say is we’re just glad that it’s over with…

A wall of media crowded around the family members. Reporter Therese Apel was behind one of the TV cameras.

APEL: Truth is, at the trial, when I asked them, when they were all standing up there at the end, and I said, “Guys, so where do you go from here?” And Shayla stepped forward and said, “We live.” I still want to cry, thinking about that…because I thought, “I don’t have that.” …I mean, my faith is very important to me, but I have learned so much from their family, from Shon and Tiffany and Shayla, and just watching them fight this with this full faith in God as their protector, creator, and um, their comforter. And it’s like everytime they do something, even though I would say that I have a strong faith. Every time they do something, I’m reminded that I aspire to trust and love God as much as they do. Because, this entire family, has changed me, from dealing with them.

Many of those affected by the shootings looked for the trial to bring closure, including Apel. She says the trial opened up scabs, but also brought some relief.  

APEL: After the verdict was read and after the sentencing was handed down, it felt like somebody threw windows open in my heart…It just felt like for a moment, and I don’t know how long it’ll last, I could breathe again.

 Tiffany Blackwell says she’s glad it’s over, but there aren’t any winners.

BLACKWELL: We don’t have our boys back…his life is over and his family’s life, we all have to deal with this…We think about what could we have done different, what could we have said? You have all of the “what ifs” playing through your mind on that night that it happened or even four years ago or five years ago. What could we have done differently to be a different outcome? So all of that always plays through your mind.

Apel has questions, too. Especially since evidence in court showed Godbolt made meticulous plans with particular targets in mind.  

APEL: You saw that this is where domestic violence goes…I think there’s a lot left to be told. Um, now that said, a reporter’s job is to report what they can verify and some of the things that…people are digging around about…are hard to verify… 

But would that really change anything? 

APEL: I think if there are places that need justice, yeah. I think if there are    not, then we’ll always all have a lot of unanswered questions. 

Carl Brown is related to some of the victims. He lives in the neighborhood where the first four murders happened, and he remembers his sister’s call at 4 that morning. 

BROWN: She said, “Open the door. Go outside.” Police cars were probably lined to Highway 51 to where the incident happened. That’s probably a quarter of a mile away…

As a retired state trooper, Brown has seen violent crimes, but these shootings  shocked him. Last year he rallied community support for a $60,000 memorial. Engraved at the top of the stone monument is a simple declaration: You will never be forgotten. Below that, there’s a list of those who died.

BROWN: And on the left side here, facing this, is a time capsule in here. When we placed it, we said 50 years from this date they can open it…They put pictures, they put news articles, obituaries…      

Brown says he hopes the memorial brings healing, especially among family members with ties to both Godbolt and his victims. 

BROWN: Right now there is a lot of bitterness, and I pray that soon passes. 

Shayla Edwards is praying, too. 

EDWARDS: You want to forgive, and that can be hard for, for some of us to do…My prayer is for his family, his children who are suffering through this. These are good kids…We want to make sure they are ok, too…They’ve lost grandmother, aunt, um, cousins, friends. They lost just as well as we, we did. So we keep them in our prayers…Also, we even, I pray for him, too.

The American justice system attempts to set things right with penalties, and that’s fitting and proper. But Christian hearts long for the “something more” of Biblical justice: the “making victims whole again” dimension. 

Myrtis May gets that. She lost her daughter and son-in-law in Godbolt’s rampage three years ago, but trusting in God keeps her hopeful. She believes He is at work.

MAY: The community as a whole may not see it, but I see a bigger picture, uh, who He is and what He can do.

Most citizens who hand down death penalties while serving on a jury would rather forget about the whole thing. But in this case, the jurors didn’t. They just could not forget.

And that’s why three months after the trial concluded, they traveled 200 miles to mark the third anniversary of the shootings. 

The community welcomed them with open arms and lots of food. 

AUDIO: [SOUNDS FROM A BUFFET LINE]

They gathered outside around the stone monument in Bogue Chitto, about two miles from where the crimes began back in 2017. Jury forewoman Nicole Becker told the crowd that going home after the trial was like entering an alternate universe. 

BECKER: We felt our work wasn’t near done. And our hearts, you know, a piece of our hearts were down here. 

She also told victims’ family members and law enforcement officers that jurors were astonished by what they saw in court. 

BECKER: You all just had such a calmness and bravery and courage about you up there on the stand and out there…That helped settle me to focus on what we needed to focus on, and that was the task that we had been given, and that was to follow the law. 

Shon Blackwell, father of victim Jordan Blackwell, acknowledged the difficult role of the jurors. 

BLACKWELL: We were so hurt you had to hurt, listening to what happened on that night…

During the 15 days he was in charge of the jurors, Bailiff Charles Campbell got to know them pretty well. Well enough to make some suggestions.  

CAMPBELL: We thought it was best for them to come together and pray every day before we left to go there. They had a big job to do… 

Jury members Mildred Williams and Anna McDonald said the whole group was in agreement. 

WILLIAMS: We prayed together like a family and that’s what we became — a family.
CAMPBELL: We did not leave there in the morning without prayer.
KH: So who led that? 
CAMPBELL: Different ones.
WILLIAMS: Different ones.
MCDONALD: They took turns, different people praying…

Jurors also acknowledged their dependence on God behind the mic at the memorial event. So did other speakers, like Shon Blackwell. 

BLACKWELL: We didn’t come today just to remember the Great Eight. We came to celebrate God for letting us live through this tragedy and still serve God and love one another… 

A guitar player sang of heavenly hope.  

AUDIO: [GUITAR SOLOIST]

A soloist who lost two nephews in the shooting testified about our great God.  

AUDIO: [ACAPELLA SOLOIST]

Shayla and Tiffany’s family joined them on stage.

AUDIO: [SOUND OF FAMILY HARMONIZING]

Then came the moving finale. 

It was Juror Mandy Keaton who came up with it–the idea of releasing paper lanterns. As she watched them rise in the night sky, she smiled and hugged her friends. 

KEATON: This is a sign of hope and healing and restoration in this community. 

To close out the evening, Tressie Durr joined in a duet. She’s the widow of the deputy who was Godbolt’s first victim. The words were powerful.   

AUDIO: [SOUND OF WIDOW’S DUET]

Therese Apel was at the anniversary event, too, in front of a camera. She’s still pumping out daily news reports, but she admits this story—the story behind Mississippi’s largest mass killing—changed her life.  

APEL: Through my career I built up this thing where I was bulletproof and you know, I’m there at the scene and I’m not scared and there’s hurricanes and tornadoes and I’m in the middle. But this was the first thing that I couldn’t just put in a box.

Cory Godbolt is scheduled for execution July 15, but records at the Lincoln County Circuit Clerk’s office indicate an appeal is underway. 

That likely means another layer of grief for the community to process. One that hovers out there in the future, waiting. 

But one thing is for certain. This mass shooting taught a hard lesson. It showed that domestic abuse isn’t just a matter of private concern. Left unstopped, it can turn into a public nightmare.  

APEL: I don’t want them to ever be forgotten. Because, I mean, even I refer to it as the Cory Godbolt case, but it’s not. It’s William Durr. It’s Barbara Mitchell, Brenda May, Tocarra May, Austin Edwards, Jordan Blackwell, Sheila and Ferral Burage…

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in south Mississippi.  


EICHER: “A Community Grief” was written by Kim Henderson. Our producer and audio editor is Paul Butler. Script editing by J.C. Derrick. Technical assistance by Johnny Franklin. 

A very special thanks to journalist Therese Apel and all the family members who made time to tell us their stories. 

If you have a moment, let us know what you think about this kind of long-form storytelling. You can reach us on our listener feedback line at 202-709-9595 or by writing us at [email protected] 

Thank you for listening to this special presentation of WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.


(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File) In this March 12, 2018, file photo, Willie Cory Godbolt listens during his arraignment in Brookhaven, Miss. Jurors will be allowed to hear what a Mississippi man told a reporter on video as he was arrested in the killings of eight people. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Special Episode: A community grief

  1. CherylS says:

    This was one of the most amazing audio news stories I’ve ever heard! It was so touching and well done. I deeply appreciated hearing it and look forward to more stories like this one — especially at a time like this. Thank you, WORLD and Kim Henderson…and the entire staff! May God be glorified!

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