In the rural Eastern North Carolina county where he was born and raised, surrounded by family and at ease in a respectable job, Ronald Dwight Lane Jr. seemed to feel, at 44, free to be himself.
Dwight, as his family called him, was always a little different, and had been picked on as a child.
“Not because he was gay,” which he was, said his cousin, Steven Smith. “But because he was Dwight.”
Lane was killed Monday morning by a single shotgun blast to the head as he began his workday at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro. The crime quickly became international news after school officials sent a lockdown notice by text, email and voice message to faculty, staff and the 14,500 students who are enrolled at the campus or in its online courses, some of them overseas.
Soon after the shooting, police identified a suspect: Kenneth Morgan Stancil III, a 20-year-old welding student at the school who had been fired from his part-time position in the print shop, where he worked for Lane.
Now, police and prosecutors are trying to determine whether Stancil shot Lane out of his anger over being let go or because Lane was gay. Stancil has said, since his arrest on Tuesday, that he hates gays. The authorities also must determine whether there is any truth to Stancil’s claim that Lane had made unwanted sexual advances toward him and, via the Internet, toward his 16-year-old brother.
“You can’t believe everything you read on social media, or everything that (Stancil and his mother) say,” said Smith, Lane’s cousin who lives in Wayne County and is acting as spokesman for the family. Lane’s siblings have declined to talk publicly.
The shooting came as stunning news to the campus and the community beyond, including to those who knew the two men.
Growing up, his cousin said, Lane was sometimes a target for bullies. He had a bit of a speech impediment. He was prone to carry a few extra pounds. He liked playing video games and reading comic books more than playing sports. He didn’t waste energy fussing over his appearance.
But he was an affable young man, Smith said, “always happy, smiling, fun to be around. He had a good attitude.”
After high school, Lane stayed close to home, enrolling in Wayne Community College, where he eventually earned three associate degrees: in science, arts and applied science in business administration.
After college, he took a job on the same small campus where he had earned his degrees, running the print shop that produced the school’s in-house publications.
There, he went by his first name – or a version of it that might have grown from the friendly way he answered the office phone: “Print shop. Ron. How may I help you?” became “Print Shop Ron. How may I help you?”
He had a favorite purple shirt printed with the moniker – Print Shop Ron – that he continued to wear even after it was full of holes.
Lane wasn’t widely known across campus, but he was familiar to staffers from other departments who needed printed reports, course catalogs or brochures. They would come and go from his shop, a compact operation on the third floor of the Wayne Learning Center, a contemporary brick building that serves as a sort of student union for WCC. The school’s library is on the same floor, and the building also houses a tutoring center, a student lounge and a small cafeteria, where Lane was a regular customer.
While social scientists and LGBT rights advocates debate whether gay people encounter more discrimination or more acceptance in rural versus urban America, Lane seemed to be comfortable here. He didn’t draw attention to himself, but neither did he try to hide.
“I had an idea he was gay,” said Wendy Martinez, who made frequent runs to the print shop to collect jobs for the Continuing Education department, where she worked while she was a full-time student at WCC. But, so what?, she said.
“He was very good at his job,” she said. “He was always very professional. He was just a really nice guy.”
Those who took the time to talk with Lane also knew that until last year he was in a long-term relationship.
A partner’s death
Lane’s partner was Charles William Tobin, known as Charlie to his family and Chuck or Chuckie to his Wayne County friends.
Tobin’s older sister, Carolyn, who lives in Dallas, said she took custody of Tobin from her parents while he was still in elementary school because they were unable to care for him. But about the time he hit adolescence, she said, she married and had a baby, and her brother didn’t get along with her new husband.
“I thought he needed a male role model, and I sent him to live with our brother, who was in the Army at Fort Bragg,” she said.
But soon after arriving in North Carolina, Tobin ran away, she said, and began living in the home of a friend’s kindly uncle. That was Lane, Carolyn Tobin said.
“And the next thing the family heard, that was his boyfriend,” she said. “This underage boy, my brother, with this man.”
On their Facebook pages, Lane and Tobin said they had started their relationship on Oct. 17, 2002. Tobin would turn 16 the next week. Lane was 32.
“As far as I know, he was an adult,” said Lane’s cousin, Smith, of Tobin.
Most recently, the pair were living in a rented trailer on a rural road outside the small town of Seven Springs, about a mile from the homes of Lane’s brother and sister. Both Lane’s parents are deceased.
Lane and Tobin had been together 12 years when, last July, Lane said he came home to find the house locked up and Tobin’s van in the driveway, but Tobin nowhere to be found.
Lane and a friend reported Tobin missing and told a Wayne County sheriff’s officer that Tobin often walked around nearby Cliffs of the Neuse State Park and that once, he had walked about 12 miles from home.
Searchers found nothing.
For months, Lane posted periodic updates on Facebook, sometimes to say he still had not heard from Tobin, and sometimes asking Tobin to get in touch if he was able. He seemed to mark time by posting photos of his three black-and-white kittens as they grew. He named them Eenie, Meenie and Miney.
In November, a hunter discovered Tobin’s remains in woods not far from the couple’s home. His death was ruled a suicide.
The sheriff’s report, a one-paragraph addendum to the missing-person report, says nothing about where the body was found or in what condition, but Carolyn Tobin said police told her that her brother’s skeletal remains were hanging from a tree. She is not convinced, she said, that her brother committed suicide.
“He was a part of his life for 12 years,” Smith said of Tobin, when asked about the couple’s relationship.
Lane’s supervisor at Wayne Community College announced the discovery of Tobin’s remains through an email to faculty and staff.
About three weeks ago, when Tammie Denton-Offield last saw Lane, “That’s all he could talk about, was Chuck. He couldn’t remember if I had heard or not, and wanted to make sure I was updated on the news of him being found.”
Denton-Offield, who lives in Goldsboro, said she and Lane started classes at WCC around the same time and were in the campus chapter of Phi Beta Lambda, the student business organization, together. The club raises funds for charity events, and its members attend state and national conferences.
Acted to ‘protect my family’
Though they were on different academic tracks, Denton-Offield and Lane shared a love for music and dancing.
“Neither one of us could dance,” she said, so at conferences where members got together at night, “we would dance together.
“He was a fun-loving guy,” she said. “He’d give you the shirt off his back. He would think of others before himself. He enjoyed life.”
Until Monday’s shooting, family and acquaintances spoke well of Stancil, too. A 2013 graduate of Southern Wayne High School, Stancil was known as a bright student and a Boy Scout who had achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He was due to graduate from the WCC welding program after the coming summer semester, school spokeswoman Tara Humphries said.
But his mother, Debbie Stancil of Goldsboro, told reporters last week that Stancil’s father had committed suicide in 2009 and that her son had never fully recovered from it. He also was angry over being fired from his job in the print shop, she said.
It’s not clear how long Stancil had worked for Lane, but Humphries said Stancil was in the Federal Work-Study Program, in which students work about 15 hours a week for about $7.25 an hour. Lane has supervised other students through the program, she said.
Humphries said Stancil was let go in March for excessive absences.
Debbie Stancil told The Associated Press that Lane had made sexual overtures toward her son on the job.
“He was verbally inappropriate with Morgan at school,” she said. “Very much verbally inappropriate. [Morgan] would tell him to stop and he kept on.”
School officials and local police say neither Stancil nor anyone else filed complaints about Lane’s conduct. Except for driving infractions, Lane had no criminal record. Until last week, Stancil had no criminal history, although he told a reporter that he had killed three people over the past several years. Police have found no evidence to support the claim.
Shortly after staff began arriving for work on Monday morning, police say, Stancil walked to the Wayne Learning Center, went to the third floor and confronted Lane inside the print shop. He carried a shotgun with a pistol grip.
Within minutes, officials stopped traffic in and out of the campus. At the time, police thought the shooter might still be on the grounds, possibly holed up in a building.
In fact, Stancil has since said, he left campus immediately in his mother’s car, drove to his home, a single-wide trailer off Old Mount Olive Highway in the southern part of the county, got on a motorcycle and headed south.
He abandoned the bike along Interstate 95 in Lumberton and, he told police, hitchhiked to Florida, where he was found sleeping in the dunes on Daytona Beach early Tuesday, and arrested.
He was easily identified by his shaved head and a facial tattoo he is reported to have applied himself the weekend before the shooting, a dark freehand design that sprawls from above his left eye to his lower cheek. It includes the number “88,” said by hate-watch groups to signify “HH,” for “Heil Hitler.”
In an interview with WRAL from the jail in Volusia County, Fla., Stancil said Lane had tried to contact him through Facebook but reached Stancil’s younger brother instead. Stancil said Lane had not had personal contact with his brother, but Stancil said he had acted to “protect my family.”
When he was brought back to Wayne County to face first-degree murder charges on Thursday, police suggested that businesses in downtown Goldsboro lock their doors in case Stancil’s claims to be a neo-Nazi, white supremacist prompted anyone to use his extradition as a way to grab publicity.
A local pastor’s group responded to the week’s events by scheduling a brief prayer service on Thursay, a couple of hours before Lane’s memorial service.
About 150 people attended the prayer service. The Rev. Jim Harry of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Goldsboro was one of several pastors who spoke briefly at the event. He said he was honoring the biblical tradition of calling out to God as a community.
“Death, evil, pain, brokenness, sin,” he said, “have ransacked our community, and we are now beating our chests toward the hills and saying, ‘Come and help us now.’”
Harry said the group prayed for Lane’s family, and for Stancil’s, as well as for the students and their parents who had feared what was happening at the campus on Monday morning; for the first responders who had to deal with the shooting, and for the town’s leaders.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the state, said he and others would watch to see how the case against Stancil proceeds and whether there are grounds for him to be charged with a hate crime.
Across the state, especially in rural areas, Sgro said, “There are pockets of people who do discriminate against LGBT people,” but they are far outnumbered.
If it turns out that Stancil hated his former boss primarily because of his sexual identity, he won’t have many sympathizers, Sgro said.
“I don’t think there is a large population of people who think like that in this state. I think the values of the people of the state of North Carolina go directly against what happened in this instance, and I don’t care if you’re talking about Wake or Warren or Wayne County.”