Ethiopia - Accused murderer turns himself in

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Ethiopia - Accused murderer turns himself in

Unread post by selam » 12 Nov 2009 20:32

Immigrant shot to death in country that saved her

As a teen, Tigist Yemane came to Charlotte from Ethiopia for heart surgery. Six years later, her sometimes lonely search for a better life is over.

Staying in Ethiopia was a death sentence for the pretty, thin 17-year-old girl with a heart defect.


Tigist Yemane was always weak. She couldn't walk more than a few steps without passing out. Without an operation, doctors told her in 2004, she would be dead in six months.

In the United States, the operation to fix her mitral stenosis is relatively simple and involves an overnight hospital stay. In her native Ethiopia, the operation was out of her reach.

Yemane had become the woman of the house after her mother died when she was nine. Her father, she told friends, was an alcoholic and mostly out of the picture. She cooked and cleaned and looked after her younger siblings. And as her ailment progressed, Yemane got weaker and weaker.

Dr. John Cederholm, a Charlotte heart surgeon visiting a missionary friend in the Addis Ababa slum, thought he could help. He and Brian Davidson, who runs a sports-based outreach program in Ethiopia, convinced authorities there to give Yemane a temporary visa, telling them they'd ensure her return. For the first time, Yemane had hope for living beyond her teenage years.

But nearly six years later, Yemane is dead – the 45th homicide victim this year in Charlotte, the city where she floundered for a foothold in America.

‘This is your opportunity'

In 2004, Yemane flew to Charlotte where Dr. Cederholm performed surgery at the Sanger Clinic, replacing one of the valves in her heart.

The Ethiopian teen stayed in the Cederholm's Charlotte home and absorbed American culture as she healed and got stronger.

“She came over with a little bit of broken English,” Cederholm said. At first, “she didn't know how to turn on a shower. She didn't know how to turn on a stove.”

When she was better, Cederholm fulfilled his promise to Ethiopian authorities and put Yemane on a plane back to her native country. But her visa was still valid and people close to her in Ethiopia saw it as her ticket out of the slums.

“They told her, ‘This is your opportunity for a new life. This is your chance to escape,'” Cederholm said.

Family and friends collected money to pay for another flight to the U.S.

Cederholm and Davidson are unsure when Yemane returned to the United States. They do know she arrived in Washington D.C. with little money and the phone number of a family she hoped to stay with.

“It's only human and natural to want something better,” Davidson said. “Unfortunately, the reality of the fact is (the U.S.) is not what it looks like in the movies. Her life, it was a hardship.”

Back in the U.S., but alone

Yemane made the phone call but the family said they didn't have the money or space to take her in, Cederholm said.

Yemane was homeless and alone.

For three years, she flitted from home to home, staying with Ethiopian families who took her in, sometimes sleeping on the streets or in shelters. She was married briefly to a man who friends said abused her, but she managed to get away.

Her compass always pointed to Charlotte, the only real home in the United States she knew. Around 2006, Cederholm said his family took her in once again for about a month.

In 2007, she met Loretta Caldwell, who runs a Charlotte ministry that takes in homeless women. The police were trying to take Yemane to a homeless shelter on the westside, but she'd been there before and didn't want to go back.

“She started running up to my car saying ‘Lady, help me, help me, please help me,'” Caldwell said.

“And I pulled off looking back at her and said ‘She's so beautiful. What happened to her?'”

Caldwell took her in.

Over the next two years, in a stable and permanent home, Yemane thrived. Caldwell helped her get a visa and a job. She used pink paint on the walls of her room, which was larger than the apartment she shared with her siblings in Ethiopia. She set up profiles on Facebook and MySpace, and her accent became fainter as she burned through calling cards talking to her siblings in Ethiopia.

One of her brothers just had a baby, and she was collecting baby clothes to send to him.

She called Caldwell “mother,” and the older woman began to think of Yemane as her daughter.

‘Are you OK? Are you safe?'

Caldwell says she was overprotective of her surrogate daughter. Even though Yemane was 23, Caldwell ran criminal background checks on the men she would date, and set a curfew.

She said she trusted Yemane's latest boyfriend, Davon Thomas, because she knew his mother, and they seemed like “good, Christian people.”

Caldwell said she last spoke with Yemane on Friday night.

Yemane called to say she might break curfew.

“Are you OK?” Caldwell asked. “Are you safe?”

Yemane said ‘yes' to both, and Caldwell said she was going to bed.

The next morning, Yemane's pink room was still empty. Caldwell began to worry.

“I started calling her. And I started calling him. And then I called around to find her,” Caldwell said.

“Within 30 minutes … the detectives were at my front door.”

Police say Thomas shot Yemane to death early Saturday morning inside his parents' house in the Reedy Creek Community early Saturday. Police called it a domestic homicide and searched for Thomas for two days before he turned himself in.

Thomas, 27, is in Mecklenburg jail, charged with Yemane's murder. And the Charlotteans who helped bring a sick teenager over from Ethiopia six years ago were raising money to send her body back.
Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046

Watch the Here

Ethiopia - Accused murderer turns himself in

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A North Carolina man accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend during an argument in North Charlotte early Saturday morning is in police custody.

Police say Davon Londell Thomas turned himself in Monday. He was wanted for the murder of his girlfriend, Tigist Yemane [a native of Ethiopia], who was shot to death on Saturday, Nov. 7, at his parents' home on Willowglen Trail.

Right after the murder occurred, police said Thomas fled the scene on foot.

Police were particularly concerned due to Thomas' military background and outdoor survival skills.

Skipper Pond lives next door to the home where the fatal shooting occurred. His wife heard the first gunshot.

Davon Londell Thomas (Photo courtesy of the CMPD)

"[She] heard someone banging on the door, and then 20, 30 seconds later, she heard two more shots,"said Pond.

Arrest records for Thomas show he has been arrested three times in three years. He was convicted of assault with intent to kill in 2007 and sentenced to three years probation. He was arrested again in 2008 for assault on an officer, and again on misdemeanor charges this year.

Pond says that's not the Thomas he knew.

"[He was] very polite, 'yes sir,' 'no sir,' you could tell he had some military training," said Pond.


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