Raleighs multiple appearances atop lists of Best Places to Live make it a place people come to with hope. The citys population has grown by more than 50 percent since 2000, rising to 406,000. Its growing still. Every year, thousands of newcomers arrive.
This month, one of them was Melissa Dawn Huggins-Jones. Born in Columbus County, she graduated from East Bladen High School in 2000 and married her high school boyfriend that same year. She came to Raleigh from Cleveland, Tenn., and brought her 8-year-old daughter with her. Her 11-year-old son was completing his school year in Tennessee with his father.
Huggins-Jones was recently divorced, but she hoped to make a fresh start for her and her children in Raleigh. She had been promoted to a new job with First Tennessee Bank which was expanding into Raleigh.
Melissa was just a model employee, a great employee, said Chad Wortman, her former supervisor at First Tennessee Bank in Bradley County, Tenn.
Huggins-Jones moved into a North Hills apartment so new the rest of the complex was still under construction. Then late on May 13 or early May 14, one or more intruders went into her apartment. Police said there was no forced entry, but there was force soon after. Huggins-Jones died from blunt force trauma, police said. Her daughter found her in the morning and alerted construction workers nearby.
With an act of violence police think was random perhaps would-be burglars trying doors a newcomer who sought a new life instead met her lifes end. The lives she wanted for her children were lost, too. The little girl, especially, may recover, but her life has been forever altered.
Raleigh has the problems that go with bigger cities, including random homicides. But there is something about this case that touches more than those involved. There is something about the young mother, the young girl, the new job and the rising apartment complex near the booming North Hills area that makes this case especially poignant, an end amidst beginnings.
Raleigh police, working swiftly, arrested three suspects Tuesday, the day that would have been Huggins-Jones 31st birthday. The suspects are young, two men, ages 23 and 20, and a woman, 18.
As the case proceeds, what happened will become clear. But what cant be resolved in court will be the sadness felt in the city where a newcomer came with hope only to be lost to violence.