FARMVILLE, PITT COUNTY - It's been one year since three store clerks were shot and killed in what deputies said was an armed robbery in Farmville. But according to a family member, the memory of the crime is still vivid.
"We never thought anything could happen in a place like Farmville or something like this. It's always been happening in big cities," said Tony Muhssen, a cousin of the victims.
According to Pitt County deputies, four armed robbers entered the Hustle Mart in Farmville on April 1, 2012, then shot and killed the three employees: 16-year-old Mokbel "Sam" Mohamed Almujanahi, 24-year-old Gaber Alawi, and 26-year-old Nabil Nasser Saeed Al'mogannahi.
Muhssen said everyone in the victims' family had a difficult time dealing with the tragedy. But Sam's father, Mike, was especially distraught, blaming himself for sending his son to the store.
"[Mike] went through hard, hard times- him the most. Believe it or not, he was not able to sleep. He was taking sleeping aid pills. And he might still do now. He's lost a lot of weight. It was just really really hard for him. [His] only son, 16 years old, was shot," Muhssen said.
But despite that period of hardship, Mike was able to recover.
"After about six months out of work, he finally realized he's gotta support his family and do something. Another thing, he got a baby boy a few months ago. I think it was Jan. 27. So that kind of brought some type of joy to the family," Muhssen said.
Investigators initially arrested four suspects in the triple shooting: 15-year-old Raekwon Terrell Blount, of Snow Hill, 20-year-old Xavier Shamble ,of Farmville, 24-year-old Willie Odell Whitehead, Jr.,of Pinetops, and 29-year-old Antwan Andre Anthony, of Bethel. Each suspect, including the juvenile, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
Muhssen said he wants his cousins to be remembered for their lives, not for their brutal deaths.
" Sam- he was a great person. He was doing great in school. He wanted to be an engineer. And he was just a humble person," Muhssen said. "And Nabil- he had just gotten married, had a little daughter. And [he was] very nice to customers, very humble guy. I just want people to keep them in their prayers and that's all we can do right now."
Sam was a student at Farmville Central High School. The principal there also reflected on the teen's murder one year ago.
"Shock, disbelief. The day before, the child's walking around your school, the next day, [he's] no longer there," said Principal Brad Johnson.
Johnson added that a lot his students were frequent visitors of the Hustle Mart, where the murders took place. He said they had a tough time coming to terms with what happened, but have found a way.
"It brought the kids close together so I think that's helped them cope and deal with it as well. That closeness, I don't think has gone away," Johnson said.
In addition to the four murder suspects, deputies also charged four other people in the Farmville triple shooting.
On Oct. 8, 2012, deputies arrested the brother of Whitehead, 28-year-old Timmy Odell House, of Greenville. Investigators said House helped the triple murder suspects by destroying clothes worn during the crime. House was charged with three counts of accessories after the fact to felony first-degree murder. He could face a minimum of 121 years in prison if convicted, according to Judge Joseph Blick.
In Sept., 2012, the girlfriend of Whitehead, 23-year-old Ashley Dorthell Johnson, of La Grange, turned herself in to authorities. Johnson was indicted on three counts of accessory after the fact. Investigators did not explain how Johnson was allegedly involved in the triple murder. Johnson was a student at East Carolina University.
Zipporah Rochell Purvis, of Farmville, was also arrested and charged with accessory after the fact. Deputies said Purvis helped the murder suspects escape from authorities.
The mother of the juvenile murder suspect, 30-year-old Valerie Denis Blount, of Snow Hill, was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.
According to investigators, some of the suspects were involved in other crimes as well. Whitehead and Anthony allegedly killed an Edgecombe County couple at their Princeville home in March, 2012.
In addition, deputies said Whitehead plotted to murder the Pitt County sheriff and his family, as a way to get out of jail.