Shaken to the core

Published 3:14 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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WINDSOR – Facing a rash of violent crime, to include three murders over a stretch of seven days, Tyrone Ruffin is doing all he can to calm the fears of Bertie County citizens.

The Bertie County Sheriff, still relatively new to that position following his election in November of last year, held a press conference here Monday evening. There, Ruffin readily admitted that the violent crimes taking place in the county have shaken him and his fellow citizens.

“Each one of these violent crimes has made a heavy impact on our county,” Ruffin said at Monday’s event, which was shown on Facebook Live. “These cases have been unpredictable, but we will work hard to bring the right people to justice and bring closure to the families.”

Ruffin went on to talk about each case individually, beginning with the murder of 80-year-old Lin Rawls of Aulander on Feb. 20. That crime also severely injured 62-year-old Rochelle Harrell, who was a caretaker of Rawls.

Robert Reid of Covington, GA was arrested April 5 for those crimes. He is jailed in Georgia and awaiting extradition to Bertie County.

On April 4, Ricky Gilliam, age 68, was shot and killed at his residence on Governor’s Road, located near Mt. Olive Road between Windsor and Lewiston Woodville.

On April 6, Horace Lassiter, age 33, was shot and killed outside of his home on Lee Street in Lewiston Woodville.

On April 9, Tony Watford, age 58, was shot and killed outside of his home near Powellsville. One day later, Bertie Sheriff’s investigators obtained warrants for the arrest of Mckenzie Raquez Watford for that murder.

Sheriff Ruffin said his officers along with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation are still tracking down leads in the murders of Gilliam and Lassiter.

“We are seeking the public’s assistance with the Gilliam and Lassiter cases,” Ruffin said. “It will take time, but our investigators will work hard to bring closure to each family, and not just to the families of the recent violent crimes, but also to the families of violent crimes that occurred before my administration took office.

Ruffin noted that 2016 was a year saddled by numerous violent crimes in Bertie County.

“The same way the dark cloud moved away from Bertie County in 2016, it will move away again and the sun will shine over our county very soon,” he said.

Ruffin also used Monday’s press conference to calm the fears of county residents, especially senior citizens.

“There is nothing about any of these cases to say that the elderly citizens of this county are being targeted. Information you may have received [from other sources] about these cases targeting the elderly are not true,” he stressed.

Ruffin did, however, encourage all citizens to be aware of their surroundings and to report anything that looked out of the ordinary.

“Now is the time to take a stand for our county and our communities,” Ruffin stated. “We here at the Sheriff’s Office cannot do this alone. It will take everyone to make our communities and our county safer.

“I will say that the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office has a strong administration and a strong team working to keep your family safe. But crime is unpredictable and sometimes out of our control,” he added.

Ruffin said he wanted to publically thank several outside agencies that have assisted the Bertie Sheriff’s Office over the past several months. He specifically named the NC SBI, Sheriff Jack Smith and the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Dexter Hayes and the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office, Chief Jeremy Roberts and the Aulander Police Department, Chief Jimmy Asbell and the Ahoskie Police Department, and the Down East Drug Task Force.

“Earlier today I spoke with the U.S. Marshals Service; they are on standby to assist Bertie County in any way they can,” Ruffin said.

“Let’s continue to pray for our county, let’s continue to pray for our communities, and let’s continue to pray for America,” Ruffin closed.

Ron Wesson, chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, was also on hand at the press conference. Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Wesson expressed confidence in the county’s Sheriff’s Office.

“They’re doing a great job,” Wesson said. “They care about what’s happening in our communities. We are confident that they will solve these crimes. They are working for all of us.”

Wesson added that he and the other commissioners are pleased with the way that the Sheriff’s Office is going about the task of keeping county’s citizens up to date on the investigations into these murders.

“It’s important that we work together as a community when things happen like this,” he stressed. “I want to ensure our citizens that no stone will be unturned. We will make sure that everything is done, not only to protect you and your families, but also to bring to justice those who have committed these crimes.”

Earlier in the press conference, Ruffin said he had individually spoken with U.S. Congressman Don Davis (NC – First District), North Carolina State Senator Bobby Hanig, and North Carolina State House Representative Shelly Willingham. He said each of those political leaders “send their prayers and support to all of us here in Bertie County.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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