WHEELING – Family, friends and local supporters are demanding justice following a weekend shooting on the island of Wheeling that left one person dead and left many in the community on the streets. ask why the shooter was allowed to walk free without any charges being brought against him.
A candlelight vigil was held Monday night near the South Huron Street spot where Tyrone “TJ” Thompson, 35, was shot dead just before 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Children, friends and others from the neighborhood came together to support each other emotionally, light candles, toss red balloons and place items at an impromptu memorial along the sidewalk.
They also urged all witnesses to the shooting to come forward.
Thompson was taken to Wheeling Hospital by emergency personnel where he died later Saturday evening. A suspect was first arrested by Wheeling police, who said Monday the suspect was cooperating with authorities. Police are investigating a possible motive for self-defense and have not charged the suspect with a crime. The suspect was released from custody on Saturday evening.
“He had just dropped me off,” Thompson’s girlfriend Morgan Mann said. “It happened within 10 to 15 minutes after he dropped me off at the house, I got the call that he had been shot.”
Mann said she had been dating Thompson for just over three years and they lived together at a residence across Wheeling Island on North Front Street.
The couple had gone out that night and played pool before Thompson dropped her off. Thompson was working at Arby’s in Martins Ferry, but was about to be hired as a pipeline worker.
“He was more of a family guy,” Mann said. “He didn’t deserve this at all. Something has to be done. There’s no reason (the suspect) should be walking the streets right now.
Many at Monday night’s vigil questioned why authorities would allow the suspect to roam free while the fatal shooting was still considered under investigation. Thompson was originally from Cleveland, but had lived in Wheeling for 14 years and called the Ohio Valley his home, friends said.
He had two children and a stepson in Cleveland. Also living in Wheeling, her youngest daughter, Tiarra Thompson, 12, joined her mother, Rachel “Pinky” Carney in the vigil for Thompson, who was known as “TJ” to family members in Cleveland. , but carried his nickname “Fresh” or “Fresh the Artist” around Wheeling. He was an aspiring musician who recorded original songs in the studio and was known to many as “Fresh”.
Carney said Thompson was unarmed when he was shot and killed.
“We have nothing left to do but fight for justice,” she said. “He was not a bad person as they try to make out. It’s wrong, and I’m not going to stop. I am the mother of his child. I’m here to seek justice for him and his children. Now, every day, we’re going to have to walk through here knowing that this man shot and killed his father.
Those present at the vigil said everyone on the street knew who the suspect was, although police did not release the individual’s name. Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said Monday he has withheld the suspect’s name because he has not been charged with a crime.
“They say it’s self-defense?” How can they say it’s self-defense if he didn’t have a gun? It’s not self-defense,” Carney said. “Everyone knows that’s not the case. ‘Cause you say you’re scared, so you can just walk in and take someone’s life? That’s not how it works. You can’t just take a life and have no repercussions.
“My daughter’s father is the one who gets dragged through the mud, and he is the victim here. My daughter is the victim here.
Mourners at the vigil pleaded for police to perform a drug test on the shooter as part of their investigation.
“I think now is the time for us to come together as a people,” said Chad Stradwick Sr., who addressed the group at the vigil. “We’ve seen it in the spotlight since 2012. We hear the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’. We’ve seen people shot in the streets. Now we have our own situation in Wheeling. It’s not Minneapolis It’s not in Texas. It’s not in Pittsburgh. It’s not in Columbus. It’s here. So it’s our responsibility to hold the community accountable. It’s our responsibility to hold the responsible local authorities and to keep asking the hard questions – to be vigilant and to be persistent.
Stradwick said people on the street heard different accounts of what happened on Saturday night. Thompson was apparently alone when the incident happened.
Police said they are continuing to gather more information, conduct additional interviews and search for possible surveillance footage. Stradwick urged all witnesses to come forward.
“Silence is violence,” Stradwick said. “There is a big difference when you have eyewitness testimony. If we don’t ask these questions, it goes under the rug. There are cameras everywhere here. If anyone in any of the other houses has seen something, please – even if it’s not recorded – contact them. Get closer to the family. It’s time to speak up.”
Stradwick advocated for the NAACP, ACLU and other entities with resources to support the family in their quest for justice.
“What we don’t want to happen is another hashtag – #JusticeForFresh,” Stradwick said.
“His name will live on,” Carney said. “Search for ‘Fresh the Artist.’ Support his music. He loved to rap, he loved to sing, he loved to dance with his kids. He will be missed, not only by me and his kids, but by everyone who knew him.
Carney said Thompson’s own father was killed when he was 6 years old.
“He worked hard to try to give his children a good life,” she said. “Kiss your family. You never know when your last day will be with someone.