HOLLISTER A Native American community grieved on Sunday over the death of one of its brightest, recalling the joy of UNC Chapel Hill student Faith Hedgepeth in church sanctuaries, living rooms and at a solemn vigil held at dusk on the sacred grounds of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe.
Hedgepeths body was found at her Chapel Hill apartment on Friday. Police are treating her death as a homicide.
The news has left the tribe of about 4,000 members in a rural area roughly 90 minutes northeast of Raleigh without words to express the hurt, many said in interviews.
It is a huge, huge shock and thats to say the least, said Melissa Richardson, the tribal councils chairwoman. Our community is just reeling from this. Numb. How could somebody do this to Faith?
There were tears on Sunday, and hugs. And some smiles, at the way Hedgepeth lived. Friends said that she planned to be a pediatrician, or perhaps a teacher, and that she wanted to return to the tribes area to practice.
Gabrielle Evans, 20, a cousin and a close friend, said they had dreams of working together to help their area.
She was always thinking of someone else, Evans said. The sweetest person ever.
Hedgepeth and Evans both won scholarships from the Gates Millennium Scholars program, giving them a full ride to UNC system schools after we both worked our butts off for it, Evans recalled.
The award letters arrived on a Saturday. The next day, at the tribes annual powwow, tribal leaders announced the news to all. It was a moment of tremendous pride, many people remembered on Sunday, for the tribal community and for the students.
UNC plans a vigil Monday night, a gathering that comes four years after the campus grieved the killing of student body president Eve Carson in March 2008.
At the Mt. Bethel Baptist Church in Hollister, a wake will be held Tuesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and a funeral at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The church was a place that was a formative part of Hedgepeths life. Her Sunday school teachers spoke of Hedgepeths infectious smile. A deacon remembered that children always looked up to her the children stuck right to her, McConnel Silver said.
You send a child off to college and you think they will be safe, Silver said. This this this throws your whole balance in life off.
Hedgepeth will be buried in the church cemetery.
The church pastor, Willie Silver, recalled on Sunday that Hedgepeth was one of the first to be baptized in the church, rebuilt in 2000 after a fire.
Silver called worshippers to the altar on Sunday, and Evans was the first, embracing the pastor in a long hug as the congregation sang Amazing Grace.
Lord, the pastor said, we need each other at times like this.
Later, as an orange sunset melted into darkness, tribal leaders led a gathering to remember Hedgepeth. It came together in less than a day. More than 1,000 people showed up, encircling the grounds and filling bleachers typically used for the annual powwow.
Drummers played and dancers joined in an intertribal dance as Hedgepeths family looked on. At one point, many of those in attendance danced in a circle around burning incense. Later, there was an honor song.
Hedgepeths sister, Rolanda, said Hedgepeth loved her ancestry and her church.
She was very much loved, and we are very much hurt, Rolanda Hedgepeth said.
Hedgepeth was especially close with her mother, Connie, and they were last together a week ago to celebrate her mothers birthday.
Marty Richardson, a doctoral candidate at UNC Chapel Hill and a member of the tribe who knows much of its history, said he saw Hedgepeth on campus the day before she died .
She was working on a video project for an anthropology class, she told him, and would need his help. The project: She wanted to study the process tribes follow to receive state or federal recognition.
The pastors wife, Cynthia Silver, said Hedgepeth helped with mission work and an active teen group in the church.
Native people are very clannish, in our families and our community, she said. Youd have to go 10 miles in any direction to find someone who didnt know her, her mom, her sister. Theres just a lot of people affected, like were all in a tailspin.
She said the tribe has dealt with sudden sickness, even car accidents.
But when violence comes against a person someone so special like Faith you wonder what could ever drive a person to attack a child? Its scary.