'She was loved by everyone': Family remembers grandmother killed by celebratory July 4 gunfire weeks before 75th birthday

Monday, July 6, 2020
Family remembers grandmother killed by celebratory July 4 gunfire
Durham police officers say there is no update in the search for the person who shot and killed Paulette Thorpe.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham Police Department officers said there is no update in the search for the person who shot and killed Paulette Thorpe.

The 74-year-old grandmother was visiting a friend on July 4 when she was killed.

Her family is devastated.

"Whoever did this, you just don't know what you all took away from us. She was a beautiful mother, grandmother, sister, an auntie," said Carole Harris, Thorpe's sister. "She was loved by everyone."

In an exclusive interview with ABC 11, Harris said hours before the shooting, she was with her sister at a family cookout with fireworks.

"She didn't like fireworks," Harris said, adding that when Paulette left to go home, she stopped by a friend's house on the way off Burlington Avenue. That's when Durham officers said she was shot randomly by celebratory gunfire.

Harris said at the end of the month, Thorpe was looking forward to a celebration of her own: her 75th birthday.

"Her life was taken so quickly," Harris said.

Outrage has been pouring in for the family.

Some people on social media even criticizing Black Lives Matter demonstrations and movements aimed at dismantling Durham Police Department and shifting its resources.

"We cannot defund the police department," said Harris. "Where will we be if we defund the police department?"

Nia Wilson of Spirit House, a Black-women-led group supporting the abolishment of police, is also upset by Paulette's murder.

"We've been conditioned to believe we need the police to keep us safe," Wilson said. "More police in the neighborhood would not have prevented it. Community members who feel accountable to each other would have prevented it."

Protesters are pushing to "defund the police" over the death of George Floyd and other black Americans. Their chant has become a rallying cry - and a stick for President Donald Trump to use on Democrats as he portrays them as soft on crime.

For instance, Wilson believes if people in the neighborhood agreed to the holiday celebrations taking place, and then doing what's necessary to uphold safety and prevent harm around those celebrations, then the community is safer without police involvement.

Now, Durham officers are urging the community to come forward.

Wilson said she believes perceptions of police in Black communities after the deaths of George Floyd and others by law enforcement will make that hard.

"I'm not saying this was an excuse for someone to not come forward, by any means, but I do think it's important to understand the conditions don't allow themselves for a family member to speak," Wilson said.

Thorpe's family is pleading for the community's help.

"Please offer up your family member--if they did this to my sister, they'll do it to anyone else. It has to be stopped and now," Harris said.

Paulette Thorpe leaves behind five adult children who are currently planning her funeral.

Police are offering a cash reward for any tip leading to an arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers at 919-683-1200.