The recent murders of three people, including a 15-year-old Thomson High School student, have sent shockwaves throughout McDuffie County.
All three cases are unrelated and authorities have made arrests in each one.
The latest homicide -- the third within two weeks -- claimed the life of Shakira Alphonesha Hudson. She was killed sometime late last Thursday or early Friday, according to McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall.
An autopsy was performed at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Augusta last Friday afternoon, but authorities have not disclosed how Miss Hudson died. After her body was discovered near a shed behind an apartment where she lived at Washington Place Apartments shortly after 10 a.m. last Friday, Sheriff Marshall told reporters they were dealing with a homicide case.
The apartment complex is located off Old Washington Road, just on the outskirts of the city limits of Thomson.
Coroner Rhusha Mack pronounced Miss Hudson dead at the scene about mid-morning.
Later that day, investigators and deputies with the sheriff's office, along with officers from the Thomson Police Department and agents with the GBI Region 7 Office in Thomson, took Miss Hudson's former boyfriend into custody for questioning. Several hours later, he was charged with malice murder, according to Sheriff's Major Ronnie Williamson.
The suspect was identified as Terry Johnson, Jr., a senior at McDuffie Achievement Center. Mr. Hudson, who is being held in the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center, appeared before McDuffie County Chief Magistrate William Bryant Swan, Jr. on Monday for a first appearance bond hearing.
During that hearing, Mr. Hudson was advised of the criminal charge against him, as well as his constitutional right to have an attorney represent him. He was informed that if he could not afford an attorney, one would be court-appointed to him.
News of Miss Hudson's slaying spread rapidly.
McDuffie County School System Superintendent Jim LeBrun said in a press release later that afternoon that counselors had been aware of the tragedy and were available to talk with any student needing assistance in coping with Miss Hudson's death.
Students desiring to leave school early with parental permission were allowed to do so by school officials, Mr. LeBrun said.
"The school system will not comment any further and will rely on law enforcement officials to perform their duties and share details at the appropriate time," added Mr. LeBrun.
At the scene, Tickina Bonner, a sophomore at Thomson High School, told reporters that Miss Hudson and Mr. Johnson used to date.
"They broke up a month or two ago," said Miss Bonner, who was Miss Hudson's best friend. "They fussed a lot."
Miss Bonner said she was with her friend at her apartment until about 8 p.m. last Thursday night.
Funeral services for Miss Hudson were held Tuesday at Stone Springfield A.M.E. Church in Stapleton. Burial was in the church cemetery.
THE SLAYING OF MISS HUDSON came just three days after the murder of 79-year-old Pate Morris, who was gunned down in the driveway of his residence, near the intersection of White Oak Campground and Stagecoach roads last Tuesday.
Mr. Morris, a well-known fiddle player who enjoyed making bluegrass and country music and who was a retired farmer, was shot multiple times, according to Michael T. Ayers, special agent in-charge of the GBI Region 7 Office in Thomson.
The state law enforcement agency is assisting the sheriff's office in probing the homicide case. The Thomson Police Department, along with the Georgia State Patrol and Aviation Division also has assisted in the case. Other agencies involved in assistance have included sheriff's offices from Columbia, Richmond and Oglethorpe counties.
Two days after the murder, investigators, deputies and GBI agents arrested Mr. Morris' nephew, 52-year-old Gregory Lewis Morris, of the 800 block of South Main Street in Maxleys, Ga.
Gregory Morris, who was taken into custody at Doctors' Hospital in Augusta last Thursday afternoon, was charged with malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime -- both felonies, Maj. Williamson told reporters during a news conference last Thursday afternoon.
The slaying suspect is being held without bond in the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center in Thomson.
Gregory Morris, a former resident of Thomson, appeared before Judge Swan for a first appearance hearing last Friday morning.
During the hearing, Mr. Morris was informed of the charges against him and told of his constitutional right to have an attorney. Mr. Morris indicated he wanted the court to appoint him an attorney.
Judge Swan told the suspect that he could not set bond in a murder case. That's something that can only be done by a Superior Court judge.
Judge Swan also informed Mr. Morris of the sentence he would face if found guilty. Mr. Morris could be punished by death or imprisonment without parole or imprisonment with parole. He also could face another five years imprisonment, if convicted on the firearm charge.
GBI Special Agent Tony Williamson, the lead case agent in the murder of Pate Morris, said during the hearing that the elder Mr. Morris was shot to death after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
The day before Morris's arrest, more than 20 local and state law enforcement officers gathered at the intersection near where Pate Morris was shot and killed, where they conducted a roadblock for four hours.
The roadblock was set up in an attempt to seek information from the public about the brutal crime.
"The arrest of Gregory Morris is the result of the combined investigative efforts of the McDuffie County Sheriff's Office, the GBI and the Georgia State Patrol over the course of the past 48 hours," Maj. Williamson said.
"During this time, Toombs Judicial Curcuit District Attorney Dennis C. Sanders provided legal counsel regarding the investigation."
Maj. Williamson said law enforcement officers received "overwhelming support from the public."
Information developed from the public led to numerous leads in the case, he pointed out.
Mr. Sanders described the work between law enforcement agencies like textbook training.
"This is how you want it to be done," Mr. Sanders said.
Graveside services for Pate Morris were held at Savannah Valley Memorial Gardens near Thomson last Friday.
Ron Burnett was the first of the three victims slain, Cedric Hobbs, of Thomson, has been charged.