To reflect on the year, Chapelboro.com is re-publishing some of the top stories that impacted and defined our community’s experience in 2022. These stories and topics affected Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the rest of our region.
Missing persons cases are not uncommon in Orange County — especially among juveniles. But two families’ worst fears became a reality when a pair of teenagers, who were friends, did not come home one weekend in September. The resulting case brought much of the Orange County community together in confusion, concern and grief, quickly becoming one of the county’s defining stories of the last year.
14-year-old Lyric Woods said good night to her step-father the night of September 16 at their home in Efland. By the time her family awoke in the morning, the Cedar Ridge High School student was gone from her room. After being unable to get in touch with her, the family called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which then shared a missing persons report with the public.
At the same time, the mother of 18-year-old Devin Clark in Mebane was sharing Facebook posts asking if anyone had seen her son. The Eastern Alamance High School student similarly had not been seen since Friday night, and was known to be a friend of Woods’. He was entered into the National Crime Information Center index on Sunday afternoon.
A discovery on around the same time on September 18 then changed everything. The sheriff’s office received a call around 3 p.m. from two men who were riding four-wheelers along a trail that went by a power line easement near Buckhorn Road in western Orange County. While there, they spotted two bodies with gunshot wounds, which were initially described by investigators as a Black male and a while female each under the age of 20. Later, investigators said neighbors living near the crime scene reported hearing gunshots “early Saturday morning.”
On Monday, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office shared what many in the community had come to accept or assume: the bodies were believed to be Woods and Clark, with the state Medical Examiner’s Office awaiting to make the official call.
“Although we do not have that confirmation yet,” Sheriff Charles Blackwood said on September 19, “in the absence of any other missing persons matching the descriptions of the individuals located, the tragic but logical conclusion is increasingly clear. This loss is devastating for the victims’ families and friends, and indeed for the entire community.”
Over the course of the weekend, and over Sunday night after the news of bodies being discovered, community members took to social media to share prayers of encouragement, speculation about the case, and suggestions to law enforcement. Family members of Woods offered a reward for information, with the comment sections of his posts turning into a frenzy. The online tension built as investigators worked to track any leads about who could have killed Woods and Clark.
On Tuesday September 20, though, the sheriff’s office shared it had identified suspect in the case: a 17-year-old, meaning the person’s identity could not be publicly shared. A North Carolina law, passed in 2019 to limit how many juveniles are tried as adults in the state, makes it so 16- and 17-year-olds who commit crimes are not automatically charged as adults. The measure meant investigators into the double homicide were limited in how much information could be shared with the public. Fourteen days later on October 4, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office shared the suspect was caught and would be charged in Orange County.
Later in the month, the local district attorney’s office confirmed that — despite the suspect’s age — it would seek to charge the 17-year-old as an adult for the allegations of murdering Woods and Clark. As the juvenile proceedings occurred and the case was referred to superior court, more information became publicly available.
During a press conference on November 7, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s office revealed the detained suspect to be Issiah Mehki Ross of Mebane.
“Investigators with my office developed Mr. Ross as a suspect by processing the crime scene and surrounding area,” Blackwood told reporters, “to collect and analyze evidence, including forensic evidence. These efforts led to our belief that Mr. Ross is the person responsible for the death of Devin and Lyric.”
The sheriff’s office investigation, which was ultimately executed in partnership with several other law enforcement agencies, determined Ross fled North Carolina late on September 18 — the day the pair of bodies were found. Authorities ultimately determined the 17-year-old was in Delaware, but had to wait to cooperate with the Delaware Violent Crime Safe Streets Task Force in order to legally arrest Ross. The suspect was returned to North Carolina 18 days later and entered into a juvenile detention center in another county.
Ross’ first court appearance came soon after on November 15. Although just in the courtroom for approximately two minutes, dozens of community members were in attendance to get their first look at Ross and witness the initial steps of the judicial process. Some people wore shirts remembering and celebrating Woods’ life, linking arms during the proceedings and then exiting the courthouse asking for privacy.
Ross’ attorney, Jonathan Trapp with the Durham-based James Williams Jr. P.A. law office, had previously filed two motions to the court. One is a bond motion to modify conditions of pre-trial release, while the other is a motion for return of property. Ross did not speak during his brief appearance and was reportedly returned to a youth detention facility afterward.
There are still many unanswered details surrounding the homicide case: Ross’ prior relationship with either Clark or Woods, why the 14-year-old Woods left her home in Efland, whether the teenagers were killed off Buckhorn Road or simply found there, among the primary ones. The district attorney’s office confirmed to Chapelboro that Ross’ next appearance, which was set for December, was delayed to a superior court session in January.
Featured photo via Travis Long/News & Observer.
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