Two years ago, Beverly Coppin was planning to head into Durham to attend an old-school, hip-hop concert with her son.
Instead, she made the trip to retrieve his body.
It had been less than an hour since Wendell Zeigler, her 43-year-old son, had called to say he had bought them tickets for the concert.
Coppin, who does not live in Durham, was pulling into her driveway when a friend of her son’s called and said he’d been shot.
“I just hung the phone up, and I called his pastor,” she said, adding the minister and his wife rushed to the scene of the shooting.
“He called me (back) and told me, yes, it was Wendell, because he was laying on the ground by his car.”
Police are still working to determine who shot Zeigler in the parking lot of a Durham car wash in 2019. He was one of 32 people fatally shot in the city that year.
As of July 10, there had been 22 people fatally shot in Durham this year, according to police statistics.
And Coppin’s story, where a case goes months or years unsolved, is not unique. In 2020, the Durham Police Department cleared just a quarter of the city’s shooting homicide cases, The News & Observer reported in February. For all shooting incidents, the clearance rate was under one in 10 cases, The N&O reported.
Cases are typically cleared by an arrest, but in rarer cases, police may clear a case if the offender dies or is arrested in another jurisdiction.
The Durham Police Department denied an N&O request Monday to speak to a detective about Zeigler’s death..
Coppin, 65, said she and the police have spoken regularly about the case, communicating by phone call or text at least once a week.
She’s also spent time in Durham talking to people on the street who might have seen what happened, and urging anyone with information to come forward.
“I will never give up,” Coppin said this week. “Even though it’s a cold case, it will never be closed until justice is served for Wendell. I won’t let it.”
‘Everybody knows who did it.’
On Sept. 27, 2019, officers responded to a shooting call just after 8 p.m. on Fayetteville Street, near Old Fayetteville Street.
Zeigler was pronounced dead on the scene.
An autopsy report showed he was shot once in the chest, Coppin said, most likely in a robbery, as his bag was stolen.
Now, investigators are working to find a white Jeep Cherokee seen in the area. It may have been a 1997 or 1998 model, with rust on it, a black door handle, a roof rack and tinted windows, police said Friday.
The description of the vehicle is a newly released detail that investigators hope will generate new leads, said Kammie Michael, a spokeswoman for Durham police.
But Coppin said she already knows who killed her son.
“Everybody knows who did it,” she said. “It’s just the evidence. They don’t have the evidence.”
She said she learned the identity of the killer while asking about the incident in Durham.
“I am not just sitting here mourning Wendell,” Coppin said. “I went to the streets of Durham plenty of times and spoke to people. They said things to me — but saying things to me is just hearsay, and they would never go talk to the police.”
She said the area where Zeigler was shot, near several restaurants and grocery stores, is busy at all hours, every day. She urges anyone who saw what happened to speak to the police.
“People were scared before,” she said. “But now the person who did the shooting is incarcerated.”
Coppin goes to Durham at least once every two weeks, leaving teddy bears at the site of the shooting and holding vigils in memory of her son.
“I’m still out there talking to people. I have not stopped going for two years,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get lucky one day.”
‘He was on the right road.’
Zeigler traveled into Durham regularly, and used to live there, Coppin said. He made his living as a dump truck driver, but his passion was his work in prison and street ministry.
Every Thursday night, he would speak to young people who were incarcerated and let them know “there’s a life after prison, and you don’t have to go back,” she said.
Zeigler spent more than three years in prison, Coppin added, and it was there he turned to faith.
“He was on the right road,” she said.
“In his journal that I found after he passed away, he would ask the Lord to be with him on his journey to Durham,” she said. “Because he felt that he could do something for Durham.”
He was the kind of person who “helped everyone,” Coppin added.
Whether it was a family function or a doctor’s appointment, she said her son always came to drive her.
“When I had chemo for my liver, Wendell was there every day,” she said. “He moved into the house with me.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, Coppin said she received support from her community. Friends spent the night with her so she didn’t have to be alone.
And when police bring charges against her son’s killer, she said she’ll feel “not happy, but I’d be satisfied.”
“Right now it’s a struggle,” she said. “But I’m not giving up.”
Police have asked anyone with information about the 2019 homicide to contact Investigator I. Harton at 919-560-4440 extension 29332 or CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200. Those who provide tips leading to arrests can earn cash rewards and do not have to identify themselves.
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