Earlier this week, I found out about the tragic death of Tamla Horsford. She had attended an adult overnight slumber party with nine women and three men. On the next morning, she was found dead in the backyard.
She leaves behind five children and a husband. Her family and friends had been trying with little avail to get more movement on her case.
Between November 4, 2018 until this week, the case was gliding under the radar with just a speck of local media coverage.
When I heard about the mystery surrounding a black mother of 5 found dead at an adult sleepover, I searched the Forsyth County News website for any local news stories to find out more.
I thought that, surely, there would be local news coverage.
Not this woman.
Why was not Tamla mentioned in both articles?
Jose Barrera had searched for records in connection to the case, which compelled the office to lose confidence in him.
The Sheriff’s department did not deem Barrera’s actions as criminal.
Although they said that the files were untampered, I wondered about what systems/procedures are in place to detect and prevent tampering with 100% confidence? Are there alerts when files are edited? Are certain officials granted clearance to edit files?
Questions began to emerge.
From my understanding, Horsford’s father, Kurtland St. Jour, had another medical examination of her body that allegedly revealed injuries that conflicted with the GBI report. St. Jour discussed this matter during a radio interview with Ryan Cameron.
After Horsford’s story began to gain more national media and social media attention, within the last several days Forsyth County news decided to run two stories (here and here) covering Tamla Horsford. Also, Forsyth County Sheriff’s department abruptly closed the case, ruling her death as an accident.
Ralph Hernandez, an attorney for Horsford’s family, stated,
“I’m not suggesting anything nefarious. I’m saying there’s a tone for some of the concerns… The fact that there was an investigation into someone who accessed personal information who was very close to law enforcement.”
Family, friends, and growing numbers of people throughout this country still have questions. I have questions.
In this post, I explore seven (there are questions within the questions, too) of them. Before I continue, I am not determined to make this case a matter of foul play. I think there are many conflicting pieces of information, as well as questionable practices and actions that I think warrant further investigation to help ensure real justice is served. This post represents my opinion not fact.
1. How did race impact the incident, investigation, and media coverage?
Tamla was the only Black person, while the rest of the party consisted of White individuals.
I find it difficult to imagine a young White girl found dead at a party with predominantly Black and/or Latinx people, and it barely makes a blip on the local news.
Because Forsyth County has been known for being overtly racist to the point of violence even in contemporary times, I think we need to put race on the table.
In 1912, Forsyth County drove out every Black resident in a move of mob vigilantism, White supremacy, and racial paranoia.
Racial and ethnic diversity has increased over the last several years in this predominantly Republican, White, and affluent context. Stacey Abrams won Forsyth in her bid for governor.
Old habits and ways can die hard. Many bring up the year 1987, when Forsyth’s pronounced racial problems drew national attention. The sordid racial history raises the issue about the handling and coverage of this case. Different people question if race contributed to possible foul play in Tamla Horsford’s death and/or impacted the investigation.
2. How do we make sense of the conflicting times/locations regarding last whereabouts of Tamla Horsford?
Investigator Christian noted that Barrera, the homeowner’s boyfriend, went to bed around 1:30 am in the morning. (See page 10 in the Investigative report)*
It appears that Barrera indicated that Horsford’s plans for the rest of the night were settled. Barrera told Investigator Christian that Horsford was going outside to smoke and let them know her sleeping arrangements. See below:
Barrera gave conflicting information to what he shared on the 911 call (See 3:13 mark) about his last observation of Tamla Horsford alive.
He stated that last saw Horsford in the kitchen. He gave the impression that Horsford was trying to decide if she wanted to go home or stay.
Barrera mentioned that Horsford was the last one he saw before everyone was “typically” put off to bed. Horsford was either waiting for a ride or staying until the morning.
Allegedly, everyone was asleep until Madeline, the homeowner’s aunt, discovered Tamla’s body. It seems as if people were cleaning up after they woke up because Jose Barrera mentions finding cigarette butts and unused cigarettes the following morning, not from the clean-up prior to retiring to bed.
The crime scene investigator, M. Fujimara, noted, “The descendent was discovered in the backyard of the residence on this morning when the residents awoke and began the clean-up process.” (See Crime Scene report)*
It seems then, that the account about everyone remaining asleep until the homeowner’s aunt went to check the temperature does not quite line up. On page 8 of the Investigation report, it says that the homeowner’s aunt “went upstairs and got” the homeowner and her boyfriend to come check on Tamla.
Were people awake and cleaning, still sleeping or what?
3. What about the conflicts with house activity and Tamla Horsford’s time of death?
Horsford’s time of death was 1:30 am on November 4th.
Please note that Daylight Savings Time stopped at 2:00 am on November 4, 2018, where time went fell back an hour.
I would like to think that investigators would ensure their reports and the death certificates have accurate times.
The report has a note for the “internal cameras” not having the time changed at the time of the crime scene investigation. It seems like a note for the pictures taken during the crime scene investigation.
With this said, Tamla Horsford time of death (see death certificate in Investigation Report) comes quite close (even exactly) when everyone had supposedly gone to bed.
Furthermore, the timeline in the crime scene report indicates that allegedly a person named Bridgett was the last to see Tamla Horsford alive when she left at 1:47 am. Horsford was supposedly alone downstairs.
All of this information brings into question about what exactly happened leading up to Tamla’s death at 1:30 am and the hours after, particularly with the doors opening and closing and reopening.
4. Was the Tamla Horsford investigation compromised when witness statements were taken?
Did investigators separate the witnesses to take statements? I am concerned that there might have been compromise in the investigation in how statements were taken. I think more details are needed to find out the process in which the statements were obtained.
Investigator M.E. Christian (B2775) indicates that when he arrived and was being briefed by Lt. S. Spriggs, that the homeowner, her boyfriend, and aunt were sitting at the table working on their statements (See page 9 of the Investigation report).
Were they working together on their statements (at the same table)? Why were they together working on their statements? How were statements taken by all witnesses in a way that kept the integrity of the investigation?
5. Is there home security camera footage to show Tamla Horsford’s accident?
If there is camera footage to show how this accident took place, then it seems like there would be less mystery.
According to the documents released, an email correspondence between the homeowner and Christian possibly points to the use of Arlo home security products. I am unaware of any additional home security system products the homeowner used in conjunction the unconfirmed Arlo home security system.
I raise this issue because of the time stamps from alerts to the homeowner’s phone when doors were opened and the info given by Barrera in the 911 call.
At the 4:26 mark, the Barrera notes that his girlfriend has cameras on the back deck that can be checked. He proceeds to mention that it is hard to say if it was the accident happened from the back deck or at the ground level.
The limited information from these reports do not mention security camera footage-only time stamp alerts through the homeowner’s phone.
What happened to these alleged security cameras? Were the alerts only from motion sensors? At the time of the party, did the homeowner have any cameras as part of her home security system?
The Arlo home security system seems to not only have the capability of motion detection and giving alerts, but one can also view footage through cameras. The Arlo smart light has a security alert option, too, but the light itself seems to be used in conjunction with the other Arlo security system components (i.e. camera).
At the time of writing, I found out from Mike Petchenik, a journalist with WSBTV, through Twitter that no video exists. See the thread below:
— Mike Petchenik (@MPetchenikWSB) February 24, 2019
6. The aforementioned tweet raises my next question(s): Why would the homeowner offer gift cards to detectives during an investigation? Did this action raise even a little suspicion for the investigators?
I am a giver. Still, there is a time and a place for generosity. I think it is questionable to offer gift cards to detectives who are questioning you during an investigation.
7. Did Forsyth County Sheriff Office’s sudden rush to close Tamla Horsford’s case ignore the possibility of further investigation?
The sudden rush to close case with increased media attention has been founded. I wonder if it impacted the quality of the investigation.
On Wednesday February 20, 2019 @0910 I placed a call to Dr. Koppenmeier of the GBI medical examiner’s office in regards to his autopsy report in the Horsford case. I explained to the doctor that we, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office are closing this case today. I asked Dr. Koppenmeier if he was comfortable with the following statement, “the deceased injuries along with the investigative findings from the scene, conclude that this death was an accident as a result from a fall consistent with the height of the deck and railing to the ground below”. Dr. Koppenmeier said this was an accurate and appropriate statement in this case. that he was in full agreement with.
That was the end of the conversation and we hung up. [02/20/2019 09:52, AHKALIN, 2140, FCSO].
I find this questionable because, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office told the GBI medical examiner that they were closing case and furnished a statement, inquiring if s/he was comfortable with it. It seems that if one was committed to a thorough and accurate investigation, that the investigator would ask the GBI medical examiner about her/his findings instead of arbitrarily closing the case and feeding a statement based on “comfort.” If this is typical practice in law enforcement, then I think this case presents another area to expand reform.
Are there other ways to explain Horsford’s injuries other than the theory that Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office seem determined to push?
I am curious about what investigator Kalin “explained” as he told the GBI medical examiner about their decision to close.
Below is the screenshot:
Closing: More Questions
I feel disturbed at how Tamla Horsford’s case and story had the appearance of almost being brushed under the rug, that it tugged at my sense of justice. It does not sit well with me. I have more than the aforementioned questions that begs for answers. I want to ensure real justice has been served with the highest levels of integrity. I am not out to prove conspiracy theories or make innocent people out to be criminals.
Perhaps, the Horsford family attorney’s search through the case files will reveal beyond a shadow of a doubt that Horsford’s death was an accident. I want her family and friends to get the answers they (many others) are searching for.
If you write and/or use social media, please consider using your voice to discuss Tamla Horsford’s story. Check out Kerry Connelly’s Patheos Progressive Post, Who Gets to be Angry? On Jussie Smollett, Tamla Horsford, + Shaliyah Toombs.
I wrote this post, in hopes that it can raise awareness to stand alongside Horsford family and friends as they seek answers.
I hope it tugs at yours, too, to seek #JusticeforTamlaHorsford.
* At the time of publishing this post, the Forsyth County News article referenced for the crime scene and death investigative reports appears to have the labels of the links to download documents switched up (If you click to download the crime scene report, you will download the death investigation report and vice versa).