By Maddie Stagnaro, Multimedia Editor – firstname.lastname@example.org
On Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. the Asheville community will host a Launch of Light memorial for Uhon Trumanna Johnson, Alexandra King and Tatianna Diz on the Craven Street Bridge overlooking the French Broad River. Police found the bodies of King and Diz in the river on Friday morning, after a week and a half searching for the couple.
On the night of Oct. 27, the women went missing after meeting up with a mutual friend, Pierre Lamont Griffin II for a drug deal, according to the warrant. That evening police responded to reports of a Pisgah View Apartments resident being shot in the head. Johnson, 31, was taken to Mission Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. Griffin was seen fleeing the scene in Johnson’s vehicle and police pursued.
Griffin fled to his girlfriend’s house. She later stated on the warrant, “he had done something bad and they needed to go.” Uncomfortable with the situation, Griffin’s girlfriend did not leave with him. Henderson County deputies in Polk County shot Griffin twice. Griffin was transported to Spartanburg Regional Hospital in South Carolina to recover from his injuries, and has been charged with three counts of first degree murder.
The following morning, an abandoned Volkswagen Jetta was found at New Belgium Brewery near the French Broad River and King and Diz were reported missing two hours later. The Volkswagen was determined to be the vehicle in which King and Diz were last seen. The windows of the vehicle were shattered, there was a bullet hole in the passenger seat, and it was stained with blood.
Authorities said they are still unsure of the correlation between Johnson, King and Diz, other than all being acquainted with Griffin. King and Diz were cherished members of the community, according to many following the story on Facebook.
“I met Alex in high school through a couple of friends around my sophomore year,” said Matthew Tipton, 24, of Black Mountain. “She was always at our sporting events, cheering us on, so we just connected.”
King and Tipton attended Owen High School together and King graduated in 2011.
“My fondest memory of Alex was that picture, which was also the last time I’ve been able to see her. We were at our high school football game and I had come home for break while I was at Montreat (College). We were just together with friends cutting up and joking around. I just loved to be around her, she brightened my day,” Tipton said.
Jasmine Taibi, 24, of Asheville, said she knew both Griffin and King in high school.
“Even though it’s been a few years, I never would’ve thought that he would be capable of something like this,” Taibi said. “It still blows my mind to see familiar faces, whose lives have interwoven with so many in our city, as headline news.”
Taibi said the community should refrain from passing harsh judgement on Griffin and to wait for all the facts.
“I can’t remember how we met, but in my experience he was kind, bright and had a high respect for women,” Taibi said. “There’s no way that any of us could be in his shoes or know why he did the things that he did. But the drug scene he was involved in must have really skewed his morals.”
Daylon Healy, 26, of Black Mountain, said he remembers meeting King and Diz through his job at Earthbound at the Asheville Mall.
“They were so kind and genuine; it was an easy friendship,” Healy said. “I offered all of my friends one wish for Christmas and they just wanted gay marriage to be legalized so they could live happily ever after. They did not deserve what happened to them.”
Healy said there are rumors going around about the two girls being involved in a hypothetical drug transaction with the man who ended up brutally murdering them.
“Nobody deserves that, especially not two beautiful young girls whose greatest wish in life was to have a happy ending,” Healy said. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they smoked weed, nobody deserves that.”
Tipton, Taibi and Healy all asked that the link to the family’s end-of-life fundraiser be shared with the UNC Asheville community, and they encourage all to help out where they can. Nicky White, the creator of the Launch of Light Memorial for Uhon, Alexandra and Tatianna event on Facebook said it is a silent memorial in which the entire community is invited to participate. Everyone is encouraged to bring a candle to light, as well as a marker to write comments on the lanterns.
“You don’t have to give a lot, but please give something. If you are financially unable to give, please send prayers/love and light,” Taibi said.
“These girls brightened the lives of everyone they crossed paths with, and they believed in true love and happy endings,” Healy said.