Wake County hosts candlelight vigil to honor crime victims as families cope with anger, sadness

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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Wake County hosts candlelight vigil to honor crime victims
Dozens of candles were lit to honor crime victims during a vigil as part of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Not a day goes by that Felicia Thornton doesn't miss her granddaughter, Brittany Smith, who was brutally murdered in Wake County three years ago.

"I still talk to her. I could see her smile. I could hear her say things," Thornton said.

Smith, 28, was pregnant when she was found dead near the Neuse River Trail on Feb. 8, 2021 -- a day Thornton can never forget.

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"I remember that day like it was yesterday," Thornton said. "It was about nine that morning when we got the call that a body had been found and that it was Brittany's probably... and I knew my baby was gone."

Two people were given life sentences in connection with the murder.

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The T-shirts that Smith's loved ones wore on Monday demonstrated that justice was served on June 14, 2023. But as dozens of other candles were lit in honor of crime victims during a candlelight vigil as part of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, the work is still cut out in cities such as Raleigh where challenges in preventing and combating crime remain.

"I think one is just the size of our city, and how many people move in this way," Raleigh Chief of Police Estella Patterson said. "There's a criminal element that comes with that. Being able to identify who the main players are is extremely difficult for us. Also, just not getting enough community support, getting information."

For Rhonda Rios, it's been four years of learning to cope after her daughter's domestic violence-related death in Wake Forest in 2020.

"Devastation. I felt alone, I felt scared," Rios said. "I couldn't believe it. I was in denial. I was very angry. Oh, very angry. And I just didn't know what to do, honestly.

Rios said jury selection will begin on Monday for Christopher Chavis, who is charged with murder in Kristen Caudle's death in 2020.

"I want her to be remembered by knowing that her family really loves her, and we have fought, and we will continue to fight for justice starting next week."