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Mississippi town of less than 1,000 sees four homicides in one month

Woodville, a town of just 869 people, saw an alarming four homicides in one month's time. (Photo courtesy of the Woodville Police Department)

The small town of Woodville is one of the oldest municipalities in Mississippi, and for over two centuries, it has been a sleepy sort of place about 10 miles from the Louisiana border.

In less than a month’s time, the quiet town has gotten quite loud with crime. On the morning of May 22, members of the five-person police department responded to a shooting death on First West Street. The victim was identified as local Henry Dyer, a Black man who officers say was an upstanding member of the community.

“Henry was a nice guy. He had been here for years, long before I ever thought about coming here. He was a cool guy who was dealing with some health issues,” Woodville Police Chief Lemuel Rutledge said. “We’re still trying to piece together how he became a victim of a homicide. He was a quiet, elderly guy who stayed to himself. That definitely puzzled the community and law enforcement who have ever had dealings with Henry.”

Authorities locked up Woodville native Eric Chisolm in connection to Dyer’s death, though a motive for the shooting is unknown. Chisolm is charged with second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm within city limits, and tampering with evidence.

Three days later, on May 25, officers received a call about what seemed to be a run-of-the-mill car accident, but when they arrived, they found that the juvenile driver had been fatally shot. With their identity being withheld due to age, this was the second apparent homicide in three days. It also took place on First West Street.

Jontavious Green, also of Woodville, was taken into custody in connection to the teen’s death. He is charged with second-degree murder and discharging a weapon within city limits. His bond was set at $200,000.

Those two homicides brought the total within a one-month span to four – the highest homicide count the 869-person town has seen since Rutledge has been chief. One of the first two homicides, which information remains sparse on, also took place on First West Street on April 26. The other occurred on First South Street, just around the corner from the location of the other three, on May 18.

“It’s surprising and shocking to us. We’ve never had this happen to us since I’ve been here and I moved to Woodville in 2005,” Rutledge said. “We have maybe two or three per year, but unfortunately for us, we did have an uptick in homicides.”

An arrest has been made in connection to the incident on First South Street. Woodville’s own Letedry Earls was locked up for second-degree murder and discharging a gun within city limits. His bond was set at $100,000. Police are continuing to search for a suspect in the May 18 incident.

According to the chief, two of the four homicides are believed to be retaliatory. Though his police force is slim and the budget doesn’t accommodate the addition of new officers, Rutledge said he has had a couple of officers step up with volunteer hours to enhance patrol efforts in Woodville.

On May 26, the police department held a community event to address the recent wave of gun violence. The event did not draw a large crowd, as expected by Rutledge due to the last-second nature. However, authorities plan to hold another public meeting in the near future to advance discussions about furthering public safety.

In the meantime, Rutledge has asked various state agencies, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, the Natchez Police Department, and the West Feliciana Parish, La. Sheriff’s Office to assist in the ongoing investigations into the homicides. The cooperation of the public, which the chief deems vital in keeping the community safe, has also been requested.

“It just seems very hard to get cooperation from the community. We stress to them and want them to understand that without them, our jobs are sometimes impossible if we don’t have the concrete evidence to put a case together,” Rutledge said frustratedly. “We most definitely want them to understand that we need their help. A lot of them are not willing to do such because they fear retaliation, which is understandable, but at some point in time somebody has to stand up and put a stop to what’s going on.”

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