Duct tape sealing her mouth, Cherrie Piper squeezed the brakes of her wheelchair as she approached the stretch of Mitchell Street sidewalk where her son was gunned down almost three months ago. Nearly 50 friends and family members of 20-year-old murder victim Matthew Piper followed.
“Cherrie’s mouth has been sealed with duct tape for about a week now to represent those who saw what happened but refuse to open their mouths because of fear,” Piper’s cousin, Cindy McVay, said after reaching the sidewalk. “And she won’t move it until someone finally speaks up. We are here to honor Matthew on his birthday this Friday morning and we are also here to stop violence. Hopefully someone’s conscience will bother them.”
Piper had left his grandmother’s apartment at 815 N. Greenwood St. [on foot] to pick up a pizza on Commerce Avenue about 8 p.m. Dec. 27. He later was found shot to death in the 100 block of Mitchell Avenue, a pizza box lying beside him.
Witnesses said they saw two men drive away in a white car after the shooting. Police have no leads or suspects.
“All we have to work on right now is a bunch of rumors,” McVay said. “A lot of people have been saying it’s gang-related activity, but Matthew wasn’t involved in anything like that.”
Like many others, Piper’s 16-year-old sister, Amberose, wishes someone would give police more information about the death of the man nicknamed Matt Matt.
“Hopefully, this will make a difference,” Amberose Piper said while holding a life-size cardboard cutout of her brother. “Matt Matt would be very proud to see all of these people remembering him. He loved walking everywhere.”
Piper would frequently walk down Mitchell Avenue and North Greenwood Street.
“He used to walk back and forth between his mother’s house on Costley Road and his grandmother’s apartment to spend time with both of them,” McVay said. “He loved helping everyone he could and never met a stranger. That’s why so many people have come out to honor him.”
The march began at 10 a.m. at the Chevron station on New Franklin Road.
Clad in blue T-shirts honoring Piper with his picture and birth date, the crowd followed his footsteps that fateful night with gospel music setting the mood.
Friends and family members decorated a memorial site with balloons and flowers at the spot of his death before taking turns speaking.
“He was just like an older brother to me,” said Jessie Seegar Jr., an eighth-grader at Long Cane Middle School. “We used to hang out and talk about everything together. It’s hard not to get mad when thinking about what happened to him.”
Longtime friend Ashley Love shared her thoughts about Piper.
“We were very close and he would always take my little nephews down to the lake near our house and would carry them on his shoulders,” Love said. “He used to love to cook me hash browns, because he knew that was one of my favorites. He just wanted to make people happy.”
After everyone spoke, McVay played Piper’s favorite song, “Move Along,” by the rock group the All-American Rejects.
“Matthew would listen to this song whenever he felt down or troubled,” McVay recalled.
She then read a letter written by Cherrie Piper.
The letter praised Matthew Piper’s faith in God and mentioned that he loved going to Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza when he was a child.
“God had a huge part in this,” McVay said after reading the letter. “Matthew finally found God and was attending church on a regular basis before his death. He managed to walk into church with his grandmother one day and ask Jesus to love him. We didn’t know that in a matter of weeks, he would walk down this street and be gunned down. But the Lord knew.”
In addition to being a Christian, Piper was also an aspiring model and an avid guitar player.
“He landed a one-year modeling contract through a local agency,” McVay said. “Also, he was set to meet with a Marine Corps re-cruiter a few days after his death. He was a very special person with a bright future ahead of him.”
After speaking, McVay joined the others to sign dozens of blue helium balloons.
Amberose Piper led a happy birthday “Matt Matt” song before parade participants released their “messages to heaven.”
For safety and traffic reasons, several police officers were on hand and barricaded Mitchell Avenue’s connection to New Franklin Road and Banks Street.
McVay and Cherrie Piper say they plan to ask the city to let them buy a section of the sidewalk where Matthew Piper was killed.
Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information on Piper’s slaying. Donations to increase the amount of the reward can be sent to LaGrange Crime Stoppers at 130 Sam Walker Drive, LaGrange, GA 30241. Checks should be marked “Reward money for Matthew Piper.”
Anyone with information about the killing was asked to call Crime Stoppers at (706) 812-1000 or LaGrange police at (706) 883-2603.
Written by Kenneth Thompson for LaGrange Daily News