Shooting of 9-year-old girl is latest in string of gun violence in Robeson County

The shooting of a 9-year-old girl and her mother over the weekend added to what has been a violent end to summer in Robeson County. 

At least 14 people have been shot in Robeson since Aug. 1, according to news releases from the sheriff’s office and the Lumberton Police Department. At least five of the people died in the six-week span. 

The most recent shooting happened about 10:15 p.m. Saturday, when Retona Sosa and her 9-year-old daughter were shot while traveling in a vehicle near Pembroke, according to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff Burnis Wilkins on Monday announced criminal charges against four people in the case, including three juveniles, and said the shooting occurred “for absolutely no cause.” 

Sosa sustained minor injuries, but the girl was initially listed in critical condition, the sheriff’s office said. Her condition has since been upgraded to stable. 

Sosa has been sharing updates about her daughter, Estrella, on her Facebook page, leading to an outpouring of support for the family. 

“When I tell you God stepped in, he stepped in and showed out today,” Sosa wrote in a post on Sunday, saying Estrella had improved enough for medical workers to remove the ventilator that had been helping her to breathe. 

Her daughter will undergo speech therapy and also therapy to help her walk, Sosa said in a post Monday. “I’m just asking everyone to please continue to keep Estrella in your prayers,” she said. 

The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and Lumberton police investigated a total of 11 shootings from May through July this year, according to an analysis of the departments’ Facebook pages, where news releases are commonly posted. 

That compares to 10 in August, and another four so far in September. 

Gun violence has been on the rise across North Carolina and the United States for more than a year. 

Nearly 39,500 people in the U.S. sustained gun-related injuries in 2020, a roughly 31% percent increase from the prior year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks shootings. 

North Carolina saw a 13% increase in 2020, according to the group. The state saw a larger increase in gun-related deaths – 576 in 2019 and 734 in 2020, a jump of about 27%, the group says. 

Experts have said a range of issues has contributed to an increase in gun violence nationwide, including stress and high unemployment rates associated with the coronavirus pandemic. 

In Robeson County, factors such as poverty, adverse childhood experiences and “toxic stress” from hurricane-related flooding contribute to high rates of violence, said Jim Barbee, executive director of the North Carolina Youth Violence Prevention Center in Lumberton.

“It’s just really been a struggle for the community,” he said.

Robeson County had a violent crime rate of 767.6 per 100,000 in 2019, according to data compiled by the State Bureau of Investigation. That put Robeson in the top five most-violent counties in the state.

But the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office is on track to see fewer homicides this year than in 2020. The sheriff’s office investigated 24 homicides last year and 13 so far this year, said spokesman Maj. Howard Branch.

Those who have been shot in Robeson since Aug. 1 range in age from 9 to 67. Charges have been filed in at least four cases. 

Deputies arrested 21-year-old Christian K. Locklear of Pembroke and a 16-year-old from Lumberton in the shooting of Sosa and her daughter, the sheriff’s office said Monday. Investigators are still looking for two other juveniles who are charged in the case. 

Locklear faces several charges, including assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, according to the sheriff’s office.  

“Senseless acts such as this horrific incident cannot be tolerated,” Wilkins said in a statement. “To recklessly shoot at a moving vehicle for absolutely no cause is beyond comprehension. Any citizen in this county should feel safe in their travels.” 

Robeson County gained national attention in March when Julie Eberly, a 47-year-old Pennsylvania woman, was shot and killed on Interstate 95 in what investigators said was a road rage attack. 

Dejywan R. Floyd, 29, of Lumberton was arrested about a week after the shooting, which gained national attention. He was charged with first-degree murder and discharging a weapon into an occupied property, the sheriff’s office said. 

Here is a list of people who have been injured or killed by gunshots in Robeson County since Aug. 1, according to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and the Lumberton Police Department: 

• Lynda and David Austin of Lumberton: Sheriff’s deputies responding to a 911 call on Aug. 3 found Lynda Austin, 67, dead inside her home on Carthage Road in Lumberton. Her husband, David Austin, 65, was injured. David Austin was later charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife. 

• Stephan Ruppel of Maxton: Sheriff’s deputies found Ruppel, 28, dead on Dixons Drive in Maxton on Aug. 28 following a dispute between him and another person.  

• Robert Davis Hunt of Pembroke: Sheriff’s deputies found Hunt, 44, dead on Aug. 22 at a location on N.C. 72 in Pembroke. Patrick Lamont Locklear, 36, of Pembroke was charged with second-degree murder. 

• Justin Suggs of Lumberton: Sheriff’s deputies found Suggs, 19, in the front yard of a home on Alamac Village Drive in Lumberton. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.  

• Damarko Locklear of St. Pauls: Locklear, 20, was traveling on North Alford Road on Aug. 26 when he was shot by someone in another vehicle. He was taken to the hospital and later died. 

• Thomas Faulcon and Craig Robinson of Parkton and Charlie Pearson of St. Pauls: Sheriff’s deputies responding to 911 calls on Aug. 29 found Faulcon, 41, dead at the scene on Victoria Drive in Parkton. Robinson, 36, and Pearson, 57, were treated for their injuries. 

• Tommy Ransom of Lumberton: Lumberton police officers responded to the Gazz Up convenience store on Fayetteville Road on Aug. 31 and found evidence of a shooting. They learned that Ransom, 27, had been taken to UNC Health Southeastern for treatment of a gunshot wound on his leg. His brother, 22-year-old Jeffrey Dean Ransom of Parkton, was charged in the shooting.

• Tracy Worriax of Lumberton: Sheriff’s deputies responding to a 911 call Sept. 3 found Worriax, 64, dead inside a home on Troy Drive in Lumberton. Demarreon McDaniel, 28, of Rowland was charged with first-degree murder and larceny of a motor vehicle. 

• Stephen Deshaun Locklear: Lumberton police responding to a call Sept. 10 found Locklear calling for help behind a home on Albion Street. He was flown to a medical facility for treatment. 

• Retona Sosa and her 9-year-old daughter: Sosa was traveling with her daughter on Moss Neck Road in Pembroke on Sept. 11 when they were shot by the occupants of another vehicle. Two other family members were traveling with Sosa. Three people have been charged in the case.