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2016 Rewind – August: Tearful Farewell

From RCNH Archives

AHOSKIE – Beating back sweltering heat that felt like 106 degrees, a group of 200 marched 14 city blocks here late in the afternoon of Aug. 12. Some carried signs reading “Stop the Violence” and Let Me Live.”   

Inside a much cooler environment of New Ahoskie Baptist Church, the marchers were joined by a host of others to fill the sanctuary to wrap their arms and souls around Raymond and Wanda Lee, parents of Lakiesha Sutton who was murdered Aug. 3 when she attempted to serve as a peacemaker during an altercation in the parking lot of Ahoskie’s Murphy Express where she was employed as a clerk.

Sutton, the 23-year-old mother of a three-year-old son, was buried Aug. 13 following a service held in the gym of Hertford County High School. Her killer, Shakur Deandre Stephenson, age 22, of Murfreesboro, was arrested Aug. 11 by the Henrico County Police Department in Richmond, VA. He was transported back to Hertford County where he faces one felony count of first-degree murder and five counts of felony attempted first degree murder arrest warrants for Stephenson. The attempted murder charges include two male victims that suffered gunshot wounds, and three other males who were in the convenience store’s parking lot at the time of the shooting on Aug. 3.

“We’re here to let the Holy Ghost take charge,” said the Rev. C. David Stackhouse, pastor of New Ahoskie Baptist and the organizer of the march and candlelight vigil. “We’re here to give strength to this family.”

Raymond Lee spoke on behalf of the family, all sitting on the center aisle, front row of the church, and included children and adults.

“All I can see and feel today is a lot of love and beautiful faces,” Lee said after spending several moments locked in a hug with his wife before addressing the audience. “You are giving us strength….strength from God. My daughter’s death has brought all of you together.”

Mr. Lee said he knew the coming days, weeks and months will be hard on his family.

“There are dark days ahead, but we’ll get through it…God will get us through it. We need all the prayers and the love you can give us. We thank you and love you for that support.”

He said Lakiesha was, “an awesome young lady, an awesome daughter, and an awesome mother.”

“I know she’s in heaven right now, looking down on us today and smiling,” Lee remarked.

“Our main concern right now is for ‘RoRo’ (Sutton’s three-year-old son); we have to keep him focused and lift him up in God’s name,” Lee continued.

He added that each and every family needs to wrap their arms around and protect their children.

“The streets are no good for them,” Lee said to a thunderous applause from the audience. “I’m seeing too many of our young people being disrespectful and talking back to adults.”

As he reflected back to the moment at hand, Lee said all he and his family can do is “to take it one second at the time.”

“Again, my wife and I and our family truly thank you for your support and we thank Pastor Stackhouse and this church for all their love,” Lee concluded.

As for Wanda Lee, she fought back the tears to say, “Thank you Jesus.”

Sutton’s young son took the microphone and said, “Love you mommy.”

Several ministers were asked to join with the family and pray with them. Included was Rev. Dr. James Shearn. Before reciting a passage from the Bible, he offered words for the grieving family.

“Our hearts bleed with your hearts,” Shearn said. “God is too wise….he knows what you are going through. Open your hearts and let him in. Let him speak to you in these troubling times.”

Shearn also addressed questions posed on nearly everyone’s lips.

“I’m hearing what you’re saying….when will the violence stop; when will the shooting stop; when will we stop hating each other,” he said. “God has the answer and you can find it in the Bible, 2nd Chronicles, the second chapter and the 14th verse.

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven; I will forgive their sins and I will heal their land,” Shearn quoted from the Bible.

Referencing the “wicked ways” portion of the scripture, Shearn said that may be translated as “repentance.”

“It’s time for America to repent; it’s time for repentance to begin in our houses and in our hearts,” he stressed. “In that scripture, God is asking us to repent and then he will act.”

Many in the audience lit candles and waved them over their heads, resembling an effort to lift those tiny lights towards Sutton’s new home in heaven.

After the candles held by audience members were extinguished, the only one left burning was the one lit by Mr. and Mrs. Lee as to say the love they have in their hearts for their daughter will last forever.