Tears, rain fall at candlelight vigil

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2008

WOODLAND – Even the sky was crying.

Despite a steady rain, the life of Calvin Harris was remembered here Saturday night where friends and family gathered on the one-year anniversary of his murder.

Harris, a Woodland native, died March 15, 2007, the victim of a shooting on Jerusalem Church Road. At the young age of 32, Harris left behind two children, his mother, one sister and a host of other family members and friends.

“We’re just so thankful to everyone who came out with the weather like it was,” said Cynthia Wiggins, Harris’ aunt who organized Saturday’s candlelight vigil. “It showed how much he was loved and thought of.”

Wiggins said upwards to 100 individuals were expected at the vigil. Less than one-third of that expected crowd braved the elements, using coats and umbrellas to shield themselves and their flickering candles from the wind and rain.

“There were many that told me later they thought the weather canceled things,” Wiggins noted.

Escorted by members of the Woodland Police Department and Northampton Sheriff’s Office, a caravan of vehicles made their way to an area across the road from Jerusalem Baptist Church, the spot where Harris was shot and killed.

“That was a night we’ll never forget,” Wiggins said. “It was like a bad dream that didn’t go away.”

Wiggins said the pain from that night remains, now one year later. However, at least for one night, rainy or not, those who knew and loved Calvin Harris paused to reflect on the good things about his life.

“He was like a son to me; I helped raise him,” Wiggins said. “He wasn’t perfect by no means, but he wouldn’t hurt a soul.”

If the family could find a ray of hope in Harris’ tragic death, it was located in his wallet.

“After his belongings were returned to the family, we found scripture from the Bible n ‘let not your heart be troubled’ n inside his wallet,” Wiggins recalled. “That gave us some comfort in such a bad time.”

Inside that wallet was another item that touched the family’s collective heart.

“We learned that Calvin was an organ donor,” Wiggins said. “Nobody knew that. It made us feel good knowing that somewhere out there, a piece of Calvin is living inside someone else.”

Terrible Thursday

March 15, 2007 was a typical late-winter day in Woodland. That night was untypical in the sleepy little town as gunfire erupted. A bullet fatally struck Harris in his chest.

After two days of investigation, Woodland Police Chief Don Ryan arrested 20-year-old Tshaka Richardson, also of Woodland. Chief Ryan said Richardson admitted to the shooting, but claimed he was firing shots into the air. The veteran law enforcement officer didn’t buy that story and charged Richardson with first degree murder.

What happened next stunned the Harris family as the man who admitted to killing their loved one was set free on bond.

“We’re still puzzled over that,” Wiggins said, adding that Richardson’s bond was only $50,000. “That bond was way too low. He took a life. Was Calvin’s life only worth $50,000? I’ve heard and read of drug cases where bond was set over $1 million, but here’s a murder case where the bond is only $50,000. People were and still are outraged over that.”

Wiggins said the murder has strained the relationship between the two families.

“We all know each other…we all live in the Woodland area, but none of us speaks to the other anymore” she said. “It hurts my heart when I see him (Richardson). I try to be objective, but when you have something like this thrown in your face (the low bond and release of the suspect), it’s tough.”

Despite those consequences, Wiggins said she and her family hold their heads high in an effort to keep her nephew’s legacy alive. She said a part of Harris lives today through his 10-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. A reminder of his life is also visible by way of two signs erected by the family along Jerusalem Church Road.

“We still love him and miss him and we appreciate those who showed up in the rain on Saturday night to show that same love,” Wiggins concluded.