TAYLORSVILLE, Miss.—Rasheem Carter worked for Clements Mechanicals at the local Georgia-Pacific company in downtown Taylorsville. He was a Fayette, Miss., native and an accomplished 25-year-old welder and a highly skilled millwright. Since his car had broken down in September 2022, he would hitchhike 20 miles back and forth from Taylorsville to the Super 8 Hotel in Laurel where he lived.
On Oct. 1, 2022, Rasheem caught a ride with his roommate, but they had an intense argument, he would later tell his mother. Rasheem got out of the vehicle during the argument and walked the 20-mile stretch to Taylorsville in southeastern Smith County. While on foot, some co-workers picked him up and drove him to the Family Dollar store in Taylorsville. There, he called his mother, Tiffany Carter, and told her he needed a ride from there to her house in Fayette, more than 100 miles away in Jefferson County.
While in the store, Rasheem told his mother that someone had called the Family Dollar clerk and asked if he was inside.
“Rasheem told me that he left the dollar store when he heard the clerk say, ‘He’s in here,’” Tiffany Carter recalled later in front of protesters on Dec. 31, 2022. “He said that he was being followed by three trucks filled with ‘racist white men trying to kill me.’”
A month later, Rasheem’s dismembered remains were discovered on private property in Smith County.
‘I Have A Dream, Justice for Rasheem’
On Dec. 31, 2022, three months after her son was found in the wooded area near Highway 37, Rasheem’s mother stood on the steps of the Taylorsville Police Department with tears in her eyes. Family and friends surrounded Carter on the gloomy Saturday morning after some of them traveled from across the country to help bring awareness to her son Rasheem’s death.
“Transparency. Where is the f-cking transparency?” Carter yelled toward the tinted, locked glass doors of the police department. Her bright-red shirt bore the image of her son on a clenched fist with the words, “I Have A Dream, Justice For Rasheem.”
Carter held back tears as she read the words she had written the night before. “I told him to go to the police station, and he did what I asked,” she said of her son. “Once he made it to the police station, he said some men were trying to harm him. He asked if he could stay and wait for his ride, and they told him no. They said that it was too small, and they had no room. He was told to leave.”
“Rasheem was in fear for his life,” Carter added.
She then gave a detailed account of her son telling her that he had asked Taylorsville police for a ride, but law-enforcement officers told him that “Laurel is outside of (our) jurisdiction,” she lamented. When family members arrived in Taylorsville, they could not find Rasheem.
“Laurel Police filed the missing-person’s report,” Carter said.
The Smith County Sheriff’s Department released a statement the day after Rasheem’s remains were found, indicating that it had gotten tips about his whereabouts and thanking “the public who turned in pertinent information regarding Carter’s whereabouts.”
The sheriff’s department indicated on its Facebook page that it did not then have evidence that Rasheem’s death constituted a crime—but gave no indication of how it thought he might have died and been dismembered: “At this time, we have no reason to believe foul play was involved, but the case is still under investigation. The remains were transported to MS Crime Lab for DNA confirmation.”
I contacted the Smith County Sheriff’s Department on Monday, March 6, and requested an interview with Sheriff Joel Houston about the Carter case. The officer took my information and said, “Sheriff Houston will call you back.”
I followed up with Sheriff Houston again on Thursday, April 12, to ask what evidence pointed to no foul play. The dispatcher said Sheriff Houston was “in court.” I left my name, affiliation and cell number. “He will call you as soon as he gets done with that,” the dispatcher said.
Houston has yet to respond to several calls at press time.
‘Lynched to the Highest Capacity’
Tiffany Carter’s voice began to crack in December 2022 as she gave a harrowing testimony of Rasheem’s last hours: “On October the second, Rasheem went to the (Taylorsville) police station (at) or about 5:30 a.m. asking for help. He was denied help. He called me around 10:15 a.m., and he was at the Family Dollar store.”
“His phone was on 1%,” Carter recounted. “I told him to drop his location, and he did what I asked. I told him that his auntie was on the way.”
“Once a family friend arrived, he was nowhere to be found,” she finished, crying.
That was the last conversation Rasheem had with his mother. On Nov. 2, 2022, his mangled, decomposed remains were found scattered in a densely wooded area off U.S. Highway 37 South in Smith County.
“My son was lynched to the highest capacity,” Carter told protesters on Dec. 31.
Taylorsville Police Chief Gabe Horn told the Natchez Democrat on Nov. 2 that video from local businesses show that Rasheem was in Taylorsville for 14 hours before he disappeared. Horn also told the newspaper that Rasheem had made a report with his department that day. Rasheem refused when officers asked him if he wanted to press charges, Horn said, adding that the victim asked officers to give him a phone charger and take him to Laurel.
Rasheem’s aunt, Felica Kaho, took to Facebook to refute Chief Horn’s statements about Taylorsville police asking Rasheem if he wanted to press charges: “I read an article yesterday in the Natchez Democrat about Rasheem Ryelle Carter,” she began. “First off, the Taylorsville Police Department told my family they knew nothing about him being chased by anyone. They said he didn’t act like anything was wrong, but you told these people this?”
Kaho told the Natchez Democrat that the police refused Rasheem’s request for a ride because Laurel was outside their jurisdiction.
I attempted to speak to Chief Horn in early March about the Rasheem Carter case, but he was unavailable for comment. On Thursday, April 12, I reached out again and spoke to a dispatcher. I asked her if I could speak to Chief Horn.
“Ask him what he wants,” I heard a voice tell the dispatcher.
“I would like to ask Chief Horn, did Rasheem Carter come to Taylorsville PD on October 1, and did he mention anything about anyone being after him?” I said.
“He did come to the police department, and no, he did not say anyone was after him,” the dispatcher replied.
“Is this an official statement from Chief Horn?” I asked.
Horn then took the phone.
“I don’t know what happened to him after he left here,” Horn said. “The Smith County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the case. You’ll have to call them.”
Carter Family Questions Smith County Evidence
The Smith County Sheriff’s Department says the family knows everything it knows. “All details have been given solely to the mother, and if and when she wants anything additional released, or if we find anything else that the public needs to know, we will release that information at that time,” it stated in an update to a Facebook post it had originally posted on Nov. 3, 2022.
“Other agencies, including MBI and FBI, have assisted as well,” the agency also stated.
However, Kaho and the Carter family are questioning the evidence the Smith County Sheriff’s Department provided to them, referring to a photograph of Rasheem still alive, shirtless and walking on the property where his remains were later found.
“They sent my sister one picture of Rasheem,” Kaho wrote on her Facebook page. “It is a back-view picture of him. They said that it was the only picture the property owner had and that it was taken with the deer camera that was on the ground.”
A Father, A Brother, A Friend
During December’s demonstration, Tiffany Carter described her son as a caring man of strength who was always willing to help make a difference in the lives of others: “He was a blessing to his community. A father, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a friend,” she said.
Rasheem’s death has left his daughter Callie Ryelle Carter without a father.
Callie recently celebrated her seventh birthday with her grandmother. “God, I thank you for Callie Ryelle Carter. I pray this day is full of love, laughter and fun!” Tiffany Carter posted on Facebook.
The Carter family and members of the Building Better Bridges organization held another peaceful protest on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, at 221 Welcome St. in Taylorsville to continue to bring awareness to Rasheem’s death.
Executive Director Marquell Bridges traveled from Gulfport, Miss., to be present with the Carter family in December. He called on members of the clergy to demand transparency and accountability from law-enforcement agencies in cases involving race violence against Black communities in Mississippi. He mentioned the case of Damien Cameron, a 29-year-old Black man who died at the University of Mississippi Medical Center after an interaction with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department on July 26, 2021.
“We need the leaders of our churches to help us fight for transparency in these cases! It’s time to get out of the pulpit and into the streets!” Bridges urged.
Jacob Blake Sr. and Andrew Joseph of Families United and Black Lives Matter Grassroots rallied demonstrators as members of the community gathered around the Taylorsville Police Department on December 31, 2022. Chief Horn pulled around and parked his white truck close to the crowd to get a view of the protest with Blake then yelling: “There he is, right there! If you want answers, he’s right there!” Horn immediately backed out and drove away as demonstrators marched towards his vehicle.
At the Feb. 5 protest, Carter told the Mississippi Free Press that she had finally been invited to the Mississippi Crime Lab to view Rasheem’s remains for the first time. Carter had to wait more than 90 days before his remains were released because the case is still under investigation.
Smith County NAACP President Rosie Kersh addressed the family’s concerns before the scheduled march down Welcome Street on Feb. 5, 2023. “I talked to the Smith County sheriff on Thursday about the fact that the (Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Public Services Unit has) not released the body to this family,” Kersh said.
Jefferson County Coroner and Fayette NAACP President Rickey McDonnell told the Mississippi Free Press in December 2022 that he absolutely believes foul play is a factor in this case. When asked if he thinks the Carter family has received justice in Rasheem’s death, McDonnell replied, “Absolutely not.”
Rasheem’s remains were finally released to the Carter family on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. His family arranged for his funeral services to be held on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at Locust Grove M.B. Church in Fayette. The State Medical Examiner’s Office’s autopsy revealed that “no cause of death could be reasonably determined.” The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is asking for the public’s help as they assist Smith County Sheriff’s Department with their investigation into Carter’s senseless death.
The Carter family solicited the services of Mississippi trial lawyer Carlos Moore, along with Ben Crump, a national civil-rights attorney, to help assist them with the case.
“One thing is for certain. … This was not a natural killing. This was not a natural death. This represents a young man who was killed,” attorney Ben Crump declared during a press conference at the Thad Cochran Building on March 13, 2023, in Jackson, Miss.
|Attorney Ben Crump stands with Tiffany Carter, Rasheem Carter’s mother, and holds up autopsy photos of her son during a press conference on March 13, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. Video courtesy 16 WAPT News Jackson|
Rasheem’s head was severed from his body, his spinal cord was recovered in a separate area, and some of Rasheem’s body parts are still missing, Crump disclosed during the press conference.
“They have recently found remains that they believe are also Rasheem Carter at another part of where he went missing, and what that tells us is this was a nefarious act. This was an evil act. Somebody murdered Rasheem Carter. And we cannot let them get away with this,” Crump said in an interview with ABC News.
Members of the family and the affected community continue to search for answers. Despite the pain and uncertainty, Carter’s love for her son shines throughout the investigation. Her last words at the December protest stirred hope: “Legends don’t die, they live on forever in our hearts.”
And so does a mother’s love.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected]epress.org. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.