A 4-year-old boy, critically injured last month during a violent home invasion that left him with a gunshot wound to the head, is improving rapidly, the one bright spot in an otherwise frustrating series of cases that have county investigators still raking over evidence and searching for clues to who could be responsible.
Although the rash of home invasions that plagued the county in late November and into December have since died down, efforts to bring suspects to justice have not ebbed, even though the trail is a hard one to follow.
“We couldn’t be more pleased that the young boy is doing so well,” said Sheriff Jimmy Thornton, nearly a month to the day after he made an impassioned plea for assistance from community members in helping to solve the case.
“We are working every day to find out who did this to the young boy, and who is responsible for the other home invasions we’ve had, but these are difficult cases to resolve.”
The sheriff stressed that officers, with help from the State Bureau of Investigation, are continuing to interview people and track leads, but he admitted that such probes can be long and drawn out.
“It’s difficult to put all the pieces to these puzzles together,” Thornton asserted.
Making it more difficult is the way so many people, even some of the victims, have clammed up, refusing to cooperate with officers or even provide descriptions of potential suspects.
“Everyone is scared to talk,” interjected detective Julian Carr. “We are talking about violent people in these cases, and we are talking about situations where people are now laying low and others simply aren’t willing to open up about what they may or may not know.”
The end result is stymied cases where evidence can often be limited.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, it’s hard to find identifying marks. These people wear masks, have on gloves. So a lot relies upon people being willing to open up and talk about what they know. In some cases, it’s the victims; in others its neighbors.”
The neighbor helping neighbor syndrome that Thornton often preaches when talking about the prevention of crime and even the solving of cases.
Being a nosey neighbor he has said time after time can make the difference in resolving a case and putting those responsible behind bars.
“In just about every case, somebody knows something,” the sheriff said. “Sometimes a neighbor sees something that looks out of the ordinary; sometimes it’s a victim who may have more knowledge of a situation than what they’d like to admit. But in most situations, it’s the communication that leads to arrests.”
In the case where the 4-year-old was shot, Thornton said the suspects are likely still laying low, frightened by the fact that they injured a child, something they likely didn’t know at the time of the attack.
In that case, a suspect or suspect stormed the home where the youngster and his parents were holed up in a bedroom attempting to avoid the attack. A weapon was fired into the closed bedroom door, striking the young boy.
“They probably didn’t realize they shot a kid,” Thornton said. “All they knew was that they shot through a door.”
When media reports hit the Internet and airwaves, the sheriff said it was highly likely those responsible realized just what a big deal it was and hid away, knowing the severity of the crime they had committed.
In the N.C. 403 home invasion, where one man was killed and two others were injured, again the lack of communication has slowed the investigation. While officers don’t believe the two incidents are related, they haven’t completely ruled out the possibility of the same suspects being tied to the cases either.
Likewise other lesser home invasions that occurred within the same 30-day period. While the sheriff said last month that it was possible that some of those incidents were targeting seasonal farm workers, even those cases haven’t been completely linked.
“There are a lot of similar elements,” Carr said. “We are comparing the crimes, looking to see where there are differences and where there are similarities. It’s been really hard to determine if they are connected because there are so many variables.”
While Thornton and Carr have said that the home invasions didn’t seem to be random in nature, they stopped short of saying residents had nothing to worry about.
In fact, the law enforcement officers urged vigilance by residents across the county, noting that there was always a criminal element out there lurking, watching for routines that might give them the opening they need to break into a home and steal possessions.
“This day and time, everyone needs to be vigilant,” Carr stressed. “People need to pay attention to what lights they leave on, what doors or windows look like when they leave home. Anything that looks our of the ordinary when they get back home, they just need to pick up the phone and let us know.”
Thornton agrees. “It’s just a phone call, and we will be there as quickly as we can to determine if anything is wrong.”
Patterns, Carr said, are something would-be criminals watch for, using it as the leverage they need to make unsuspecting residents crime victims.
“Look, they know who lives alone and they know routines. They watch for them. That’s why it’s wise to alter your routine, switch on different lights in your house every time you leave, don’t get into a habit of making any kind of pattern, even which way you leave your home to go somewhere.”
Thornton stressed the importance, particularly for the elderly, of traveling in pairs as often as possible, and being that good neighbor who calls to check on friends when they know they should be home from church or some other community event.
“Make an effort to be a good neighbor and, again a nosey one,” Thornton said.
And the Sheriff’s Department, he said, would be out there doing its part too.
“We are patrolling the county at all times, and we are continuing to work these cases. We are still pecking away at all these cases and we will find that piece to the puzzle that it takes to solve these crimes. We are far from done,” Thornton said.