Transient and suffering from depression, 22-year-old Michael Campbell was shot to death and left to die in a drainage ditch in Ramblewood Park over the Fourth of July weekend.
His death was Charlotte-Mecklenburg's 43rd homicide this year, and police investigators need help finding his killer.
Relatives last talked to Campbell Thursday and expected him at a family reunion Friday. He'd been looking forward to the cookout and even got new clothes, they said. But he never made it.
On Sunday, about 9 a.m., a patron found Campbell's body near the park's front entrance – wearing the brown T-shirt, plaid shorts and new Puma sneakers his aunt had bought him for the reunion.
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He'd been shot more than once and suffered other injuries, police said, but they declined to release other details.
It's unclear whether Campbell, who had been staying with relatives in the nearby Windsong Trail neighborhood, was killed in the park or dumped there.
It's also unknown whether more than one person was involved in his death.
It was the worst crime ever in a park that primarily deals with vandalism and thefts from vehicles, park officials say. Robbery doesn't appear to be a motive in Campbell's death, investigators said, but wouldn't elaborate.
“He left the house Thursday, and the next thing you know he was dead,” his mother, Sheyl Clark, said tearfully Tuesday. “He was just a sweet little boy.”
Campbell was raised in Charlotte by his father. He dropped out of high school and was working toward a GED from Central Piedmont Community College, his mother said.
Campbell wasn't working and didn't have a permanent address to call home, relatives said.
For years he had bounced between their homes, and relied on them for clothes, food and bus passes so he could get around the city.
Campbell pleaded guilty last year to possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia, and to committing larceny, N.C. court records show. His troubles seemed to coincide with the deaths of his father and grandmother, which seemed to heighten his depression, his family said.
Campbell often stayed the maximum time in jail for his misdemeanor charges, partly because he may not have had bond money, and so he could have a hot meal and place to stay, said CMPD detective Steve Ladd.
“He was just as kind and quiet as he could be,” said his aunt, Lisa Clark, who lives in Wilmington. “But he was sort of lost.”
He was the kind of person numerous agencies in Charlotte are trying together to reach through a new program to give homeless and mentally ill people charged with crimes a better place to stay than jail, said Tom Eberly, jail and justice director for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office.
A recent study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg inmates shows that many chronic offenders are homeless and mentally ill.
“They need a place to go and unfortunately a lot of times that's jail,” Eberly said. “We're trying to set up some kind of housing and services so they can be better served in another place.”