BOGUE CHITTO — The unveiling of a memorial Saturday honoring eight people who died in a shooting rampage during the 2017 Memorial Day weekend in Lincoln County served as a unifying force for the community and a lasting tribute to the victims.
Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy William Durr, 36, Barbara Mitchell, 55, her daughter, Tocarra May, 35, and Mitchell’s sister Brenda May, 53, all of Bogue Chitto, and Austin Edwards, 11, and his cousin, Jordan Blackwell, 18, of Brookhaven, and Ferral Burage, 45, and Sheila Burage, 46, of Brookhaven, died in the shooting that took place the night of May 27 and into the early morning hours of May 28, 2017.
Durr was responding to a domestic violence call in Bogue Chitto when Willie Cory Gobolt allegedly killed him and two others before spreading his rage across the Lincoln County countryside and taking five more lives.
Godbolt is scheduled for trial in February, but there has been no ruling on a motion for a continuance that has been filed in the case. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The massive granite monument encased in stone and surrounded by chrysanthemums in vibrant fall colors bore the names of the victims below the words “You will never be forgotten.” The back of the edifice — placed in front of the Bogue Chitto Fire Department and facing a stretch of Highway 51 recently dedicated in Durr’s memory — contained scripture under each of the victims’ names.
Durr’s widow, Tressie Hall Durr, opened the ceremony by singing a moving rendition of “How Great Thou Art” and encouraged attendees to sing along.
“I am supposed to just be singing, but I wanted to take this time to say thank you for everything that everybody has done to make this monument a reality,” she said.
The Rev. Shon Blackwell, Jordan Blackwell’s father, said he was pleased to see the show of unity from the community at the unveiling.
“First of all, I just want to say that I am so, so thankful to be from Bogue Chitto,” he said. “I’m glad that through my lifetime that I am able to witness where we can all come together. despite our ZIP codes, our phone numbers, our churches’ names, our race and just tell God, ‘Thank you.’ ”
Through the unbelievable scale of the tragedy that affected his family and others, Blackwell expressed undeniable optimism and hope for the future of the community.
“To see everybody come out today with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts tells me that we all serve the same God — a God that can bring us through trials and tribulations,” he said. “The Bible tells us that when we come together that proves to the world that we are God’s disciples, and I am so happy to be His disciple.
“I’m grateful to be around people who have experienced loss but at the same time we gained relationships with one another. I’m so thankful that even though we cried and we still cry, sometimes we find joy. We are able to smile sometimes and we can be like Tressie and able to sing, too. ... We need to be able to continue this. We don’t need to wait until tragedy strikes for us to get together.”
The Rev. Eugene Edwards, pastor of New Zion Union Missionary Baptist Church in Bogue Chitto, lost two of his grandsons, Austin Edwards and Jordan Blackwell, in the massacre, along with six members of his congregation.
His message also centered around unity out of tragedy.
“Bogue Chitto, Lincoln County, you showed Mississippi and the rest of the counties how to love,” he said. “You gave your time, you gave your tears, you gave your handshakes, you gave your love and that was two years ago, and ever since then you’ve been doing that and I am very grateful to be a part of Bogue Chitto.”
Edwards said he believes the horrific events of that deadly night is a message from God to bring together people who might otherwise stay apart.
“When tragedy comes, Satan meant it for bad, but God showed us, ‘I’m going to go another way with you,’ ” he said. “He used my grandson, he used six of the members of the church that I pastor to call this meeting, and we belong to Him, y’all. And so He can do with us what He chooses to do, so when we gave Him our lives, we didn’t know what road He would take us on.”
Edwards recalled a storm that blew through Bogue Chitto a week before the shootings — a force of nature that wrecked houses and brought danger to life and property. But that was nothing compared to the storm made by one man’s rage that would take place day’s later.
“God took care of us in both storms,” he said.
He thanked organizers of the event and those who worked hard to make the memorial a lasting and well-done tribute to the victims.
“Thank you, all the people who had a part for making sure that this dedication day could happen. Thank all of you for making sure that we would have something to show people when they pass by on 51, when they pass by on Bogue Chitto Road, that says those people care,” he said.
The monument was completed before one finishing touch could be added to it — a medallion bearing Durr’s badge. Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing presented that to Durr’s son, Nash.
Relatives of the victims also placed momentos into a time capsule buried in the north end of the monument that will be opened in 67 years.
Dr. Barbara Buie closed the ceremony by asking attendees to join hands in a circle around the memorial as she prayed.
“Everybody here is connected one way or the other,” she said. “Look around at the circle, look around at the people who are here. Keep your eyes open, look up to heaven and say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for this is the day that you have made and we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ We know that there’s still hope, we know that there is love and we know that there is togetherness.”