09/22/12 — Teen's body found

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Teen's body found

By John Joyce
Published in News on September 22, 2012 11:41 PM

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Goldsboro and Wayne County law enforcement vehicles are seen at a site along a dirt path leading from Carmack Road on Saturday in southeastern Wayne County, where the body of Kennedy Fitzgerald McLaurin Jr. was reportedly found. The teenager had been missing since Sept. 9.

Less than 24 hours after they first announced the arrest of three suspects in connection with the Sept. 9 disappearance of Kennedy McLaurin Jr., Goldsboro police have found what they believe is the 16-year-old's body -- and have arrested a fourth suspect in the teen's murder.

Officers from the GPD, along with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and with assistance from state agencies and tips from the community, recovered the missing teen after 3 p.m. Saturday from a wooded area not far from a vehicle path adjacent to Carmack Road in Seven Springs.

Four men are in custody, each charged with murder in connection with McLaurin's death.

The State Bureau of Investigation is assisting with the case. The remains have been sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh for positive identification and an autopsy to determine the cause of death,

The arrests and recovery of the body have brought to a culmination a rapid-fire weekend of developments that began with a press conference from the family asking for the community's support, prayers and tips and ending with the arrests late Friday and Saturday.

Speaking on behalf of McLaurin's family, April Cox expressed their gratitude for the efforts of the community, and especially those of Goldsboro police.

"They would mostly like to thank Investigator Dwayne Bevell for all he did, and the time spent away from his own family," Ms. Cox said.

Ms. Cox, along with Coreen Hagans, helped to organize a community march, held Thursday, to raise awareness for the McLaurin case. They acted as spokespersons for the family Friday as another press conference was held to ask for tips and to update the community on the progress of the investigation.

"We also want to thank everybody for their prayers and support," Ms. Hagans said.

Less than four hours after the police upgraded the McLaurin missing person case to a homicide, detectives made two arrests late Friday.

As Leonard Eugene Joyner, 21, and Jerome Jilah Butts, 19, were escorted from the police department in handcuffs, both proclaimed their innocence.

Within the hour, a third arrest was made, this time by the ACE Team from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. Deputies located and apprehended Kevin Edward Smith, 18.

The fourth suspect, 17-year-old Curtis Omar Etheridge, was arrested by police at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday, just a few hours before McLaurin's body was officially recovered in a field near Seven Springs -- near a site where the previous day investigators had looked for clues based on a tip.

Police would not speak about a motivation for the abduction and murder.

"This is not gang-related, nor was it random," said Sgt. Dwayne Dean of the Goldsboro Police Department.

Speaking to the media Friday, Dean said statements given by persons of interest developed throughout the investigation were enough to declare the teenager dead.

Investigators would not confirm what physical evidence had been collected in the case, but did want to dispel rumors circulating about the circumstances of the city's 10th homicide this year.

Dean said that although McLaurin was present at the "Sweet 16" party held at the Walnut Creek Country Club the night before his disappearance -- during which a fight allegedly broke out -- investigators believe there was no connection between that incident and his death.

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office did in fact respond to that incident, but no report was made and no charges were filed.

It is unknown whether any of the suspects in the case attended the same party.

Joyner, Butts, Smith and Etheridge are all being held in Wayne County Jail, without bond, awaiting a first appearance Monday.