Family, Tribal members react to arrest in Faith Hedgepeth murder investigation

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Saturday, September 18, 2021
Family, Tribal members react to arrest in Hedgepeth case
Faith Hedgepeth's case is a grim reminder that indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murder victims compared to the national average.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- For nine years and nine days, it's news that Evynn Richardson, Zianne Richardson, Taylor Williams, and so many others have been waiting to hear.

"All you can say is Thank You, God. Cause that's literally in the midst of it. God really came through," said Evynn.

Williams added: "To watch the press conference and everything, I just couldn't help but cry tears of joy."

The three are all distant relatives of Faith Hedgepeth, the UNC student murdered in 2012. Thursday afternoon, Chapel Hill Police announced Miguel Enrique Salguero-Olivares had been arrested in the case.

"Just crying from tears of joy. Just feeling anger and sadness because it's not going to bring her back to us," Zianne said.

On top of being distant relatives, the three are now students at UNC-Chapel Hill, acknowledging Hedgepeth's death has weighed heavily during their time on campus.

"I was really interested in UNC for a really long time. But Faith was always in the back of my mind. But whoever killed her is still out there. What if it's me next? Or what if it's one of my native friends next," said Williams.

Evynn had similar concerns.

"I'm on the same campus as our cousin who got murdered. Like, that's crazy. And now we're getting put in almost the exact same shoes walking the same pathways. It's terrifying. But it does give me a big sense of peace that we got him. There's going to be justice," Evynn said.

Hedgepeth, like her relatives, was a member of the Halawi Saponi tribe, the third-largest in North Carolina.

"For us, it's certainly been a long, agonizing wait. Because Faith was such an inspiring and aspiring young lady within our tribe. Happy, jolly all the time. Just a joy to be around," said Chief Ogletree Richardson, who recalls Hedgepeth as a role model for younger girls. "To us, this brings us a step closer to closure, for justice for Faith. But along with all of the others that are still out there, missing or murdered, we still have that ray of hope that much or many more efforts will be focused on helping to figure out what happened to the indigenous women."

The CDC notes murder is the third-leading cause of death amongst indigenous women 10-24 years old, and indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murder victims compared to the national average.

"We will always tell her story. Because she can no longer do that. And as an indigenous sister, and her being her sister, we owe that to her," said Zianne.

Both Zianne and Taylor are past recipients of Faith's Smile Scholarship, which is for indigenous women seeking higher education; Evynn recently applied. While that's one way to keep her legacy intact, the trio hopes more can be done.

"I am hoping soon that the university would consider having some kind of memorial for her because she was such a light on this campus and she deserves so much (more) than what she got," Taylor said.

Furthermore, they'd like to see the university make a more proactive effort in connecting with indigenous students.

"I think that that's something that the university could work on is making better relationships with our natives and making more spaces and saying, 'we hear you and see you and acknowledge you're on the campus. Not just to check the diversity box, but because we feel like you're a vital part of the Carolina community," Zianne said.

On Friday, the UNC American Indian Center released a statement on the arrest.

"Faith was a dynamic member of the American Indian community and the broader campus community at Carolina. While we will never forget Faith or the impact she had on our community, we are grateful an arrest has been made in her case. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and the Halawi Saponi Indian Tribe as they enter this new phase of grief. We remain committed to supporting the Carolina Native community, our alumni, friends, and allies on campus during this time."