ZEBULON, Ga. – When a young black man was found killed outside of Griffin, Georgia, in 1983, his family was too traumatised to a tombstone on his grave.
Not knowing who killed Timothy Wayne Coggins or if the killer would come back to vandalize a well-marked cemetery, they held a hurried, anxious, the funeral, and left it unadorned, his niece Heather Coggins said.
Now, 34 years later, after two white men were charged in the racially-tinged cold-case, Timothy Coggins’ the grave has finally been marked with his name.
The Coggins family unveiled the new headstone Saturday on their own church in Zebulon, Georgia, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Atlanta.
“This is a very dark cloud over our family. But today we can see the sun will shine again,” said Tyrone Coggins, a brother of the man killed during a rousing 90-minute memorial service at Fuller’s Chapel United Methodist Church.
Timothy Coggins’ body was found by hunters in a field not far from a highway in the Sunny Side of the community a few miles north of Griffin.
The murder remained unsolved, until in October last year when the authorities announced the arrest of Frankie Gebhardt, 59, and Bill Moore Sr., 58. Arrest warrants accuse them of stabbing and slicing Coggins to death and him “seriously disfiguring” scars. During a hearing in November, a prosecutor said Coggins was also dragged through the woods behind a pick-up truck. Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ben Coker, said the 23-year-old Coggins was killed, because he was “a chat with a white woman.”
Heather Coggins, has said the family long suspected that his death was somehow linked to racism. They said that they were too scared to mark her uncle’s grave at the time that he was killed, and the time went by, it was just left unmarked. But after suspects were charged in his slaying, she said, family members chipped in to buy the tombstone.
The little country church was filled with members of the large family, many of them wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Timothy Coggins photos and the words “At Last … Rest in Peace.” Many also wore purple ribbons to their wounded, even in comparison with the favorite color.
Many of those who Coggins, is over — and the dozens of cousins, nieces, nephews and cousins who packed the church were usually too young to have known Coggins. But they all grew up hearing stories about his death, said Jennifer Stevenson, 35, who was still a baby when her cousin was murdered.
“As his inheritance, we feel as though we were robbed,” she said. They never got to the man who was known for his charming smile and smooth dance moves. And Coggins never got around to marry, to settle, a career, and know the generation that came after him.
“Our family is great, and we are convinced that he would be proud of us,” Stevenson said during the service, which featured gospel music from a family choir and interpretive dance by a number of the children.
Several speakers told how Timothy Coggins was known to be faithful to walk his younger family members at home in the night.
“He always wanted to ensure everyone came home safely,” says Tyrone Coggins. “This is a confirmation for the family that 34 years later, Tim made it home.”