Fake News is too strong a label — but it’s probably at least a first cousin.
It is true that the badly decomposed bodies of three women were found in Lumberton earlier this year, two on the same day, and the other a few weeks later. It is also true that a 20-year-old Lumberton woman is now missing, and her fate is unknown.
But it is not true, despite what some news outlets are suggesting, a message that races like fire across social media, that there is any reason to believe that any of these deaths is connected to another, or that a serial killer is on the prowl in Lumberton and Robeson County.
Multiple news outlets, not from around here, have — we believe irresponsibly — made some major leaps in what seems like an effort to convince people that someone is hunting down and killing young women.
That is despite Lumberton police, who are being assisted in the investigation of the three deaths by the FBI, saying explicitly that they don’t believe the recent disappearance of Abby Patterson is connected to the discovery of the three bodies in the spring.
Fueling the speculation is that it remains unknown what killed Christina Bennett, 32, of the 1900 block of Eastwood Terrace, Rhonda Jones, 36, of Troy Drive, and Megan Anne Oxendine, 28, of the 700 block of Dwight Road, all Lumberton addresses.
The bodies of Bennett and Jones were found on April 18, and Oxendine’s on June 3, all within reasonable distance of each other on the eastern side of the city. The bodies were in such states of decomposition that what killed them remains unknown, but they all were involved in drugs and probably prostitution that undoubtedly put them in harm’s way.
Police have said there were no obvious signs of trauma to any of the bodies, such as a bullet wound or a head injury, and the whispers are that they might have died from a bad batch of drugs. Serial killers aren’t necessarily clever in hiding the manner of death, and often what they want most — attention —prompts them to take some ownership of their misdeeds in some public way.
It is a bit infuriating that months later the state Medical Examiner’s Office — which performed 4,400 autopsies in 2016, more than a dozen a day — has not made their causes of death more of a priority, especially given the recent speculation. But we know that office is understaffed and overwhelmed.
We don’t know what happened to Bennett, Jones or Oxendine; there is no evidence that Abby Patterson is not alive, and we join many others in hoping that we get the happy news any day that she is safe and at home.
People are free to believe the worst, and live their lives according. We would always advise people to be careful where they venture and when, and to be alert to what is going on around them. That advice would stand regardless of whether there were a serial killer among us or not.
What troubles us is that Lumberton and Robeson County are being used for click bait by media outlets that are clearly trying to lead people to a conclusion for which there is no evidence. There is a mountain of truth that indicts Lumberton and Robeson County when it comes to violence, and we don’t need an artificial topping added to that.