Hurting for justice 2 years after west Charlotte mass shooting
June 22, 2022, marks two years since a mass shooting on Beatties Ford Road in west Charlotte left four people dead and multiple others injured. The reward for information leading to an arrest is now $47,000. But so far, no suspects have been arrested in connection to the shooting, leaving families of the victims despondent two years later.
"So we're actually standing on Beatties Ford Road where four individuals — Dairyon Stevenson, Jamaa Cassell, Kelly Miller and Christopher Gleaton lost their lives on June the 22nd, 2020," said Mario Black, who was there the night of the shootings. Christopher Gleaton is a part of his family.
"A night that was going too good for it to end the way it ended," Black said.
It’s a hot summer day on Beatties Ford Road. Traffic flows steadily unlike two years ago when yellow police tape marked off crime scenes.
The tape is gone, but four memorials remembering those who lost their lives two years ago, remain.
Black has taken on the role of caretaker of these four markers that grew after the shooting. He was one of the first to notice when they had been removed back in March and contacted the city to find out what happened. The city later said in a statement that Solid Waste Services responded to a call regarding trash around the memorials and in the process removed items that had been placed to remember the victims.
His parents live in west Charlotte, and he continues to keep an eye on the memorials regularly.
"You need to know that something happened here," he said. "It's a sacred space now."
Black wants more answers about what happened that led to the violence. Police say there have been arrests of people on other crimes who they believe can help, but no one directly associated with the shooting has been arrested.
"This happened in our community," Black said. "Don't forget them. Right now, I feel like their deaths are in vain because there is no closure for these families. They can't rest."
One of those families who can’t rest is Jamaa Cassell’s. His father, Charles Billings, hasn’t been to his gravesite since the funeral. He won’t go back, he says, until he can tell his son that the police have found the person or persons responsible for his death.
He describes his son as loving, kind and a good father.
He talks about a time when he was with his son at a store and Cassell bought groceries for a woman who didn’t have enough money and had started to put items back. That’s why Charles Billings does so many interviews with reporters — he wants people to know the kind, caring man he helped raise.
"You never get over it," Billings said. "But now, you're at the stage now where you're hurting so bad for justice and you're not getting it."
Communication between the family and the police has been another sore point over the last two years — not knowing who to call for an update he says, as various detectives have worked the case. At first, he says he would go to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police headquarters once or twice a month to try to get updates.
"The last time I went, I don't know the officer's name, his words to me was, 'Mr. Billings, go home. Let us do our job.' That was it. So my wife was seeing how upset I would get and everything. So she said, 'Stop going down there because you get too upset about it.' So and when he said, go home and let us do our job. So I put it in your hands to do your job cause you didn't do your job the night that it happened. So I went home and it's been a year and nine months, not one phone call."
Then there was the time earlier in the investigation when Billings got a call from a detective. He said the detective called him Mr. Stevenson — the father of one of the other victims.
"I said, my words were to him, 'That's not my name. Do you know who the hell you talking to? You call somebody you don't know who the hell you talking to?' That's the last I heard from him," Billings said.
Days after this interview took place, CMPD scheduled a press conference regarding the anniversary of the shooting. Billings says he didn’t have any idea about it.
During the press conference, Lt. Brian Crum was asked about communication with the families.
"If we come up short on their expectation," Crum said, "we need to do better and we'll work on that."
Billings also feels like the city hasn’t properly acknowledged the tragedy. Last week, a plaque was unveiled on Beatties Ford Road from the city. But two years later, it feels like an afterthought.
"It's going on two years. We get a plaque. That's it," Billings said. "And after this is over with, the families got to go back. It don't go away."
What keeps Billings going is his family. There is anger. There is sadness. There are waves of grief that knock him to his knees. But he gets up for his wife. For his daughter. For his grandchildren. On the hard days, he says he reminds himself that God gave Cassell to the family.
"I gave him to you and your wife for 39 years, I'm bringing him home. And I take it like that. You try to remind yourself of all the smiles, all the good times and you look back and you say, I did a damn good job. Take it for that. And keep going," Billings said through tears.
As much as an absence is felt by Cassell’s death, Billings still very much has a relationship with his son. He talks to him all the time. And he knows he’s still looking after the family. Not long after his death, Billings and his wife noticed a tree growing in their backyard. They hadn’t planted anything there, it just started to take off. They intentionally let it grow.
It appears to be a mimosa tree. Its leaves fold up at night and reopen in the daylight. Mimosa trees typically have pink or purple flowers that almost look like feathers. The family says the tree hasn’t flowered yet. But maybe that’s coming next. Like the justice the family says it's hurting for, they’ll continue to hold out for new blooms of hope.