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Suspect in killing of 14-year old Rural Hall girl had been questioned several times over the years

DOBSON — A man arrested in the rape and murder of a 14-year old girl from Rural Hall had been questioned several times over the course of the nearly 40 year-investigation, law enforcement officials from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Robert James Adkins, 62, of Dobson was arrested Friday on charges of raping and murdering Ronda Blaylock, whose body was found in Surry County on Aug. 29, 1980, three days after she and a friend voluntarily got into a truck for a ride.

Capt. Scott Hudson of the sheriff’s office declined to say how long Adkins had been a suspect and what led to his arrest on Friday.

“He was spoken to numerous times throughout the investigation,” he said.

The case has bedeviled law enforcement for decades, spanning five different sheriff administrations in Surry County. After the trail went cold in 1982, different sheriffs reopened the case in 2003, 2010 and 2013, exploring new leads before changing its status back to inactive, Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt said.

“Unfortunately, sometimes, we don’t get enough leads, we don’t discover enough evidence for an investigation to remain active,” Hiatt said.

In 2015, then-Sheriff Graham Atkinson formed a task force to revisit the case and investigate new leads. That investigation ultimately led law enforcement to a quiet stretch of Fisher Valley Road where Adkins has lived for several years.

“He was surprised we had shown up,” Hudson said of Adkins, who is now in custody at the Surry County Jail.

Hiatt and Hudson provided few specifics of the investigation. No new piece of information led to Adkins, Hudson said.

“It was the totality of the whole investigation,” he said, noting the hundreds of interviews, evidence from 1980 and forensic results that pointed to Adkins.

The trail took investigators to Ohio and Myrtle Beach to interview witnesses.

“These investigators developed a possible person of interest,” Hudson said. “And that person would later be identified as Robert James Adkins.”

Made up of the State Bureau of Investigation, the sheriffs offices in Surry, Stokes and Forsyth counties, and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, the task force sorted through reams of material and re-interviewed everyone still living that was interviewed in 1980, Hudson said.

“We pretty much started the case back over and tried to get a point of view and information as well as new witnesses,” he said.

Hiatt and Hudson praised the team of investigators for their diligence through the years.

“No case that any law enforcement agency gets is closed; they are always reviewed, always looked into. Sometimes, it takes different eyes to look at it,” Hudson said.

Adkins has lived on Fisher Valley Road in Dobson for several years. Before that, he lived in Carolina Beach, on Baux Mountain Road in Winston-Salem and in Stokes County. In the 1980s, he was on probation two different times for driving while under the influence, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

Over the years, police had released little information about the case.

A ninth-grade student at Atkins High School, Blaylock and a friend had voluntarily gotten into a truck driven by a man who called himself Jimmy on Aug. 26, 1980.

Jimmy told the girls that everyone called him “Butch.” He was described as a man in either his late teens or early 20s. He was tall, weighed about 165 pounds and had straight brownish hair feathered on the side and light facial hair. He listened to rock stations, smoked cigarettes and drove a 1970s model truck that witnesses said was immaculate.

The word “Chevrolet” was on the steering wheel, authorities have said.

He dropped off Blaylock’s friend and left with Blaylock in the passenger seat.

Her parents, Charles and Lynne Blaylock, reported their daughter missing on the same day. Her partially clothed body was found in the woods off Secrest Loop Road in Surry County, a few yards from the Stokes County line and 18 miles from where she was last seen in Rural Hall. A medical examiner said she died from multiple stab wounds.

Winston-Salem police chief: No evidence that fatal shooting at Hanes Mall was racially motivated.

Investigators have not uncovered any evidence that a fatal shooting outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall was racially motivated, Winston-Salem police Chief Catrina Thompson said at a news conference on Wednesday.

But she also said that Julius Randolph Sampson, who was killed in the shooting, and Robert Anthony Granato, the man charged with Sampson’s death, both used racial epithets during an altercation before the shooting. Sampson was black and Granato is white. Thompson said no other suspects are being sought in Sampson’s death, emphasizing that police believe this is an isolated incident.

Thompson said the investigation is still active and in its preliminary stages and declined to answer detailed questions from reporters about what led to the shooting. Capt. Steven Tollie of the Winston-Salem Police Department said he could not comment on reports that Sampson was defending a female bartender before the altercation began.

Granato, 22, of the 100 block of Cloverhurst Court, is charged with felony murder in Sampson’s death on Tuesday. He is also charged with carrying a concealed weapon while or after consuming alcohol. Granato is being held in the Forsyth County Jail with no bond allowed on the murder charge. He is scheduled to make a first appearance in Forsyth District Court today, where he will be formally arraigned on his charges and asked whether he wants to hire an attorney, represent himself or have a court-appointed attorney.

People have told the Winston-Salem Journal and have shared on social media platforms, such as Facebook, that Granato had made racist comments to Sampson and that the altercation between the two men began after Sampson defended a female bartender at the restaurant. Granato’s Instagram account shows pictures of him holding guns and videos of him shooting them. One picture from 2014 shows Granato standing with another young man, wearing shirts saying “Murica” and him displaying what appears to be the OK hand signal that some people associate with support for white supremacy.

The Winston-Salem Journal has not heard from any witnesses, including employees at BJ’s Restaurant, who saw the altercation and the shooting.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill urged the public to be patient.

“The thing you have to understand is that it takes time to complete an investigation,” O’Neill said. And prosecutors and law-enforcement sometimes have to limit the information they provide the public to make sure criminal defendants can get a fair trial, he said.

Thompson said Winston-Salem police officers were called to BJ’s Restaurant just after 4 p.m. Tuesday. Sampson and Granato did not know each other prior to Tuesday, she said. They were involved in a disturbance in the restaurant. They went outside where they continued to argue. At some point, police said, Granato drew a handgun and fired it, striking Sampson.

Since the fatal shooting, Winston-Salem detectives have interviewed numerous eyewitnesses, she said. On Tuesday, Winston-Salem police searched a burgundy Honda in the parking lot of BJ’s and a group of detectives entered the restaurant shortly before 5 p.m. The restaurant was closed after the shooting.

Angelo Terry, a friend of Sampson’s, told the Journal Tuesday that Sampson was married and had three children. He worked as a barber in the Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Hanes Mall.

Several elected officials, including Council Members James Taylor, attended the news conference. Taylor, the chairman of the city’s public safety committee, said that he and others stand against hatred and urged people to wait for the facts.

“We will not sleep and will not rest until we know all there is to know,” he said.

Council Member Jeff McIntosh, vice-chairman of the public safety committee, read a statement from Mayor Allen Joines, expressing condolences to Sampson’s family.

“Please be assured that the city is fully investigating this terrible tragedy,” he said.

Council Member Dan Besse referenced the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over this past weekend in which about 30 people were killed. The alleged shooter in El Paso wrote a manifesto where he said he wanted to kill Hispanics. In Dayton, six out of the nine people killed were black. Besse said he hated that a news conference had to be held to dispel rumors that this was racially motivated.

He also urged action on gun violence.

“I’m outraged that we continue to lose lives to the plague of gun violence,” Besse said.

Nearly 150 people gather for candlelight vigil for shooting victim

Nearly 150 people gathered Wednesday for a candlelight vigil at the site where a Winston-Salem man who was shot and killed Tuesday.

Julius Randolph Sampson Jr., 32, of Oak Pointe Drive died outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall.

Robert Anthony Granato, 22, of Cloverhurst Court was charged with murder and carrying a concealed weapon in connection with Sampson’s death. Granato was being held Wednesday at the Forsyth County Jail with no bond allowed.

Several speakers at the vigil called for an end to gun violence and justice for Sampson. The vigil was in the parking lot next to the restaurant.

Sampson’s nickname, “Juice,” was spelled out in the parking lot near the restaurant. A cluster of flowers and candles sat nearby on the sidewalk.

The restaurant was closed Wednesday.

During the vigil, several people cried and hugged each other.

“We lost a champion in our community,” said Arnita Miles of Winston-Salem, who helped organized the vigil and is a friend of Sampson. “We want to honor him today. We need to unite and stop gun violence in Winston-Salem.”

Miles encouraged the attendees to remember Sampson, who was a husband, a father and a son. Sampson worked as a barber at the Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Hanes Mall.

Miles then read a statement from Sampson’s wife, Keyia Sampson, at the vigil.

“I want justice for my husband,” the statement said in part. “He didn’t deserved to be slaughtered.”

Angelica Bacote of Winston-Salem, Sampson’s godsister, said she cried Tuesday when she learned about Sampson’s death.

Her 5-year-old son, Nolan, then asked her, “Who’s going to cut my hair now,” Bacote said.

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. of Forsyth County said he visited with Sampson’s family members earlier on Wednesday.

“I’m angry,” Kimbrough said. “We’ve got to stand together strong. We can’t be divided. I’m with you.”

April Wright of Winston-Salem questioned why Sampson died.

“Why him? Why him?,” Wright said loudly. “No one deserves to die. I just don’t understand.”

Denise “D.D.” Adams, a member of the Winston-Salem City Council, said that Sampson’s death was senseless and that gun violence is too common in the city. Sampson’s death is the city’s 15th homicide this year.

“Now everyone has to run, hide and duck,” Adams said. “We’ve got to stop the violence.”

Calvin Salley of Winston-Salem, Sampson’s uncle, said that his nephew died because someone made a bad choice.

“I never dreamed that he was going to leave the earth like this,” Salley said.

Four decades after rape and murder of 14-year old girl, her family is left with an unanswered question: Why.

DOBSON — Ronda Blaylocks’ family — what’s left of it — took seats Wednesday morning in the last row noticeably behind the lenses of television cameras.

A news conference had been scheduled for 10 a.m. Investigators with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, the SBI, the Forsyth sheriff and a couple other places wanted to talk about the stunning arrest last week of 62-year-old Robert James Adkins in connection with Blaylock’s murder in 1980.

And Ronda’s family — first cousins and her aunt — wanted to be there to see if they could find answers to questions that had been haunting them for years.

“Why did you do it?” said Vicky Thomas, Ronda’s aunt, in response to a question about what she would like to know.

Kevin Thomas, Vicky’s son and Ronda’s first cousin, had another question in mind, one that he knows will likely never be answered fully, completely or truthfully.

“I care about the ‘how’ .... How does somebody live with that for 40 years?,” Kevin Thomas said Tuesday evening. “Is it that he’s just that heartless? Are there other cases, things, he’s done related to it? Are there other things in his life we don’t know about?

“How do you live with that?”

Ronda Blaylock

By now, if you’re still reading this, you know the basic details about Ronda Blaylock’s death.

Ronda was 14 and a freshman at Atkins High School when she and a friend climbed into a pickup the afternoon of Aug. 26, 1980. The friend was let out, and Ronda was never heard from again.

Her parents, Lynne and Charles “Freddie” Blaylock, reported her missing, and a lifetime of uncertainty and pain unspooled from there. Ronda’s body was found three days later on a dirt road just over the Stokes-Surry county line.

Investigators had a description of a slender young man named Jimmy and the immaculate blue Chevy he drove but not much else. The trail went cold fast and investigators were forced into chasing shadows and tips that led nowhere.

Lynne and Freddie Blaylock retreated inwardly. Wouldn’t you? Ronda was their only child.

“I was only 2 when she died,” Kevin Thomas said. “We just didn’t talk about it much. There were things I never knew or heard until this last week.”

Can you blame them? Explaining the rape and murder of a high-school kid, a true innocent, to her cousins would be near impossible.

Freddie Blaylock died in 2012. Lynne passed away Aug. 2, 2018 — exactly one year to the day before the man suspected of killing her baby girl was finally arrested. Neither knew an arrest would come, but both were painfully aware of what had happened to their child.

“What goes through my mind every day is the suffering she was put through … being stabbed to death,” Lynne Blaylock said in January 1981. “I still tell myself that every day.”

Investigators said Wednesday that they were aware of Adkins for some time and had interviewed him at different points. Capt. Scott Hudson of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office and a key investigator since the 2015 formation of a cold case task force, indicated that was so.

“He was spoken to numerous times throughout the investigation,” Hudson said.

Even as investigators were keeping an eye on Adkins, they were communicating often with Ronda’s family. Police don’t always do that. They try and stay in contact with survivors but there are a thousand details and not all can be shared. Investigations sometimes grow dormant and frail human memories do, too.

“We’ve had numerous engagements with Mrs. Blaylock,” Hudson said. “I spoke to her right before her passing.

“For the family, (Adkins’ arrest) is a new chapter. When one chapter closes, another one begins.”

The case

Communication across the years certainly went a long way to helping ease, if only for moments, the burden Ronda’s family had forced upon them.

“I always wondered when this day would come,” Vicky Thomas said. “Now the day has come.”

Note that she said “when” and not “if” the day would come. Thomas seemed a little nervous about speaking to a small horde of reporters — who wouldn’t be? — but she did it with her children — Ronda’s cousins — by her side.

“I knew (an arrest) would come,” she said. “There is hope. You have to keep the faith.”

Hearing those words had to provide some small measure of satisfaction for investigators who worked to solve Blaylock’s murder.

Lloyd Terry, a retired captain with the Surry County sheriff and special agent with the SBI with a particular interest in cold cases, allowed that making an arrest after so many years of dormancy is a huge thing. He kept Ronda’s photograph for decades to remind and inspire.

(If Terry’s name sounds familiar, it might be because he was deeply involved in the 2012 arrest of the men responsible for shooting to death in October 1996 Jonesville police Sgt. Greg Martin. Terry can still rattle off the ID number of an ignition fob to a stolen Dodge pickup truck that turned out to be a key piece of evidence.)

“You remember all of the names” of victims, Terry said.

But some are different. Terry, a man of deep faith, made sure he attended Lynn Blaylock’s funeral last year. Old cops might remember victim’s names but they don’t keep photos of them all, and they don’t typically attend their parents’ memorial services. “No, (we) don’t,” he allowed.

To be sure, the news conference Wednesday provided some answers to old questions. Such as investigators being aware of Adkins, having interviewed him and having sent off evidence for sophisticated scientific analysis.

Other questions, however, remain that someday might be answered.

What did Adkins do all these years? Did he work? Have a family? Did he live out in the open in Surry County all this time? Who else knew but never came forward?

“I hope you’ll understand us keeping it close,” Hudson said about not providing too many specifics.

“It’s still an active investigation, and we don’t want to harm the outcome,” he said.

Those types of answers may come in court months or years down the road. But for Ronda Blaylock’s family, answers to more difficult questions may never arrive.

Why would someone rape and murder a 14-year-old? And what kind of soulless monster could carry that awful secret for so long?

“How does anybody live around here for 39 years, not that far away, and just … live with that?” Kevin Thomas said.

New superintendent named for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

In a unanimous vote, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education on Wednesday appointed Angela Pringle as the school system’s new superintendent and approved her contract during a specially called meeting.

Pringle comes to the local school system from the Richmond County School System in Augusta, Ga., where she has worked as superintendent since September 2014 and served 31,000 students.

Pringle said she is excited to be part of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and looks forward to taking on the superintendent post.

She spoke of how she knew that the local school board members were serious about their mission and direction for the school system based on the rigorous process and questions they asked her during the interview process.

“I knew that they meant business,” Pringle said. “I understand the work to be done and I look forward to working on behalf of children in the community relative to our efforts in equity, our inclusiveness.”

She also wants to focus on literacy.

Pringle grew up in Virginia and knows the Winston-Salem area because her daughter graduated from Wake Forest University.

While speaking to the media, Pringle said her goal is to have the school system’s children perform at high levels.

“That’s going to take us working with our teachers, our administrators and our community,” she said. “Everybody has to work together on this work we have before us on behalf of children.”

School board members welcomed Pringle and talked about some of the reason behind their decision to pick her for the job, including the fact that she drove around to every school in the school system.

“Choosing Dr. Pringle was both difficult and easy,” board member Elisabeth Motsinger said. “Everyone on the board was enthusiastic about welcoming you. Welcome to Winston-Salem. We’re glad you’re here.”

Board member Deanna Kaplan said, “This is not only a win-win for all of the children in Forsyth County but for the community as well.”

Board member Leah Crowley told Pringle that the school board had an extremely competitive pool of candidates.

“You rose to the top,” Crowley said.

Pringle’s base salary will be $215,000 a year. Her predecessor, Beverly Emory made about $212,000 a year just before she announced in February that she was leaving after six years as superintendent for a job with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Pringle, who will start her new job Sept. 3, will be the first African American to head the local school system in a non-interim capacity.

Before announcing Pringle as the new superintendent, the school board did not disclose any of the other candidates who applied for the leadership post. Pringle was chosen from a field of 43 candidates.

Malishai Woodbury, the school board’s chairwoman, said Wednesday that the board considered community feedback, the board’s conversations about what it wanted in a superintendent, and survey answers from school system staff members, members of the community and students.

“The highest-ranking experience that the community and staff said that they wanted in a superintendent was a teacher,” Woodbury said before providing an in-depth run-through of Pringle’s qualifications and experience. “Our new superintendent has seven years as a math teacher.”

Pringle has more than 30 years of experience in public education in Virginia and Georgia.

She previously was a region superintendent and principal for the DeKalb County School District in Georgia. She has also worked as a director of human resources, a principal and an assistant principal for the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, and as a principal and assistant principal for the Danville Public Schools in Virginia. Pringle began her career in public education as a math teacher in Virginia Beach and Danville, Va.

Pringle received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and business management from Averett University, a master’s degree in secondary school administration from Hampton University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Virginia Tech. Pringle also was chosen to participate in the Broad Superintendents Academy in 2018. She is married to Lt. Col. Ronald D. Hairston, the deputy chief of the Danville Police Department, and has adult children.

Woodbury said she hopes “this community not only gets to know how smart and how brilliant Dr. Pringle is but you get to know her as I’m coming to know her as a woman that will bring us joy and peace in this school district as we hope to make sure that all of our students are learning.”

After the announcement several people talked about how excited they were to have Pringle on board.

“I’m excited about the announcement, to have a woman of color and well-qualified,” said Val Young, the new president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators.

Young said Pringle pretty much checks all the boxes in terms of the criteria that the community wanted in a superintendent.

“We’re looking for our children to rise up in literacy and we want all the ‘turnaround schools’ to be schools of excellence,” Young said.

Adam Moore, a teacher at East Forsyth High School, said nobody really knew what to expect at the special meeting.

“I’m very thrilled with Dr. Pringle so far,” Moore said. “The resume that we’ve been getting is very impressive. I appreciate having somebody as our superintendent who’s also been in the classroom and understands the struggles of being in the classroom but also the so many joys that we have as well.”

Michele Jordan, a teacher at Brunson Elementary School, said, “I am very hopeful and excited that we will have somebody that can move our school system forward and bring everyone together to give our students and staff the best that they deserve.”

Forsyth County Commissioner Tonya McDaniel said she is ecstatic about the direction the school system and the school board is going with the hiring of Pringle.

She added that she adores the work of interim Superintendent Kenneth Simington, who announced last month that he will retire at the end of his contract on Aug. 31. Simington has spent most of his more than 30 years in education with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

“I want him to enjoy his retirement.” McDaniel said.

Allison Lee Isley/Journal