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'We forgive you'
Family pleads for information in murder of 17-year-old Haley Hutcheson
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Heather Ernst, aunt of Haley Hutcheson who died from a gunshot wound early Sunday morning, displays a photograph of Haley with nephew Ian as the family makes a plea for justice, compassion, and information at the Statesboro Police Department on Tuesday. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

The family of a teenage girl murdered early Sunday pleaded for information about her tragic death during a press conference Tuesday, and they said forgiveness awaits the person responsible.

Haley Hutcheson, a 17-year-old Bellville resident and Claxton High School student, was shot as she traveled in a vehicle on Veteran’s Memorial Parkway around 12:45 a.m. Sunday. The fatal shot came from another vehicle, police said.

After the shooting, “multiple persons” in the vehicle with Hutcheson when she was shot took her to the hospital, where staff notified police around 12:52 a.m., said Statesboro Police Capt. Jared Akins. Hutcheson was pronounced dead in spite of efforts to save her.

Nine members of Hutcheson’s family met Tuesday with media at the Statesboro Police Department on West Grady Street in an emotional plea for the shooter to “call and give themselves up.”

Heather Ernst, the victim’s maternal aunt, cried as she spoke about her niece, describing her as spiritual and quiet, but outspoken in her opinions. 

“We are here to find justice for Haley,” she said. “Haley was loved by all of us.”  Hutcheson’s parents did not attend the press conference, as they were making funeral arrangements at the time, she explained. “We are speaking for them.”

Her niece was a “very loving child, quiet at times, but would express her opinion,” she said. “She spoke her mind. She loved everyone equally – there was no hatred in Haley. She had a big heart.”

Choking with grief, she said “We would like to see the person responsible held accountable for their actions.” Showing an enlarged photo of Hutcheson holding her young nephew, Ernst begged “Any tip may help – any little detail.”

Robert Baggett, the victim’s grandfather, accompanied Breanna Ernst, Hutcheson’s sister, to the podium inside the SPD training room. Speaking to the shooter through the media, he said “You took a beautiful child from this sister, from this world.” Breanna Ernst spoke up as well, wiping away tears. “Haley was beautiful inside and out.”

The victim’s step-great grandmother, Brenda Baggett, said “She did not deserve this hideous death. Her family is crushed… we need justice for Haley.”

 

Forgiveness

Brett Holcombe, along with his wife Anna, attended the press conference, representing Hutcheson’s paternal side of the family, he said. He is the victim’s uncle.

Describing the family as Christian, he spoke of “mercy and forgiveness.”  

“We want justice, but as Christians we look at this a little bit different than what most people do. We see purpose,” he said. “There was no accident that your bullet struck our child. Out of anybody it could've hit, it hit ours ... our family. We believe that was strategic and if you're listening today, by camera, news, whatever, we don't believe in any accidents in our home. We believe things are Devine. We believe it hit our family so that you could experience what true mercy and forgiveness is in your own life ... When your bullet struck our child, it struck the heart of this family and it couldn't have hit a more merciful family. We pray that the Lord that we serve, that He will put such conviction on you that you can't sleep at night 'til you make that call. That you will put this part behind you and maybe turn your life around.”

Dusty Hutcheson, the victim’s father, “has already forgiven you,” Holcombe said.

The family’s tangle of emotions, anger and grief mixed with sadness, was reflected by Holcombe’s words. He said the family “offers forgiveness, because that is what this …country needs more than anything. If Haley were here, she would say ‘you tell them I forgive them.’”

Akins led the press conference, sharing limited information about the case, but stating the detectives investigating have done an “impressive job” in gathering evidence and statements.

Crime scene specialists combed the area of Veteran’s Memorial Parkway (the Bypass) from Brannen Street to Fair Road, “recovering physical evidence,” he said.

Details of Hutcheson’s funeral were not finalized Tuesday. Family members said students at Claxton High School, where Hutcheson was a junior, were planning a track meet in her honor.

Police have questioned numerous witnesses as well as persons of interest in the case, including some from neighboring counties. Detectives do not believe the shooting was a random act, Akins said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Det. Travis Kruen or Akins at (912) 764-9911.

 

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.