By Sarah Nagem
Marqueise Coleman was gunned down in the small southeastern North Carolina town where he was well-known as a good student, a standout on the football field and a young man with a bright future.
Now, Coleman’s family is pleading with the community to share information about the shooting that left the 19-year-old dead in the early-morning hours of July 29.
“I think it’s heartless that they’re not talking to the police to tell what’s going on,” his mother, Tanisha Coleman, said. “They’re walking around like, ‘Hey, it’s all right.’ But it’s not all right.”
The community gathered Friday evening at Robeson County’s St. Pauls High School, where Marqueise Coleman dominated the football field as a running back, to release balloons in his honor. Coleman had signed on to play at Fayetteville State University this fall.
Through tears, his mom called for an end to gun violence. “Queise didn’t bother no one,” she said. “If anything, he loved everyone.”
The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office has not made any arrests in the case and is asking for the public’s help.
Homicide investigators have interviewed several people and collected surveillance-camera footage from homes and businesses on North Alford Road, where Coleman was shot about 2:40 a.m. that Thursday, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.
In the release, Sheriff Burnis Wilkins called the shooting a “cowardly criminal act.”
The sheriff’s office had announced a $3,000 reward for information in the case, but the amount rose to $8,0000 after a contribution from a local businessman.
“This is yet another example of our community coming together and seriously wanting to combat crime and bring forth some semblance of closure to a grieving family,” Wilkins said in a statement Thursday.
St. Pauls is home to about 2,100 people in northern Robeson County, one of the poorest areas of North Carolina. The town was a textile center for years until much of the industry left the state between the 1970s and the 1990s.
There were 17.9 gun-related homicides per 100,000 people in Robeson between 2016 and 2018, more than in any other North Carolina county, according to the nonprofit group North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.
Robeson recorded 71 such homicides during that period, compared to 56 in Wake County, where the population is more than eight times bigger, the group’s data shows.
Marqueise Coleman was with a group of people when he was killed, said Ladonna Armstrong-Reynolds, a friend of the Coleman family. The sheriff’s office said the teen arrived at UNC Health Southeastern in a private vehicle.
Coleman might not have been the intended target, Armstrong-Reynolds said, and people who were around that night might be scared.
“People are afraid,” she said. “Fear’s a lot. It will keep you from making the best decision. … Too much retaliation right now.”
Armstrong-Reynolds encouraged young men at the event to “do different.”
“Do not let it make you bitter,” she said of Marqueise Coleman’s death. “Let it make you better. Be the light for him. Go above and beyond. Show the community, and show everybody, different. Do different. Think different. Don’t be bitter, be better.”
Jadakyss Glover-Graham, 20, was Marqueise Coleman’s teammate and described his friend as “a beast” on the football field and “a kind man” off the field.
“He was a good person,” Glover-Graham said. “You wouldn’t even expect for something like this to happen to him. We thought he was supposed to go on to college. He was one of the best out of St. Pauls – one of the greatest.”
Glover-Graham said he doesn’t know why the shooting happened.
“Nobody’s talking,” he said.
Tanisha Coleman said she wants answers. And she wants people to stop shooting each other. She recalled a piece of wisdom from her son.
“In his famous words,” she said, “why can’t we just all get along?”