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5 Years Later: What Happened To Remy Okonkwo?

Remy Okonkwo and his mother after this high school graduation.

By Patrice K. Muhammad

   It has been nearly five years since Remy Okonkwo died at Georgetown College. His death has been a story that is still talked about in hushed tones. Many in the community still doubt the official cause of death given and doubt that the truth will ever be known.

Chief Remy Charles Okonkwo was found dead in the Lambda Chi Alpha house on the campus of Georgetown College in Georgetown KY. Though the coroner ruled it a suicide, the mother, family and many in the community doubt it. Not only because Remy was a promising art student with a zeal for living and a strong testimony for Christ, but because of the racial undertones surrounding his life at Georgetown.                Remy was a freshman and one of only two Black members in his predominately white fraternity. At the time of his death, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house was located next to the Kappa Alpha house that prominently displayed Confederate flags in the windows. Remy went to a dance, the night before he died, with a popular young white woman who was a Senior and had recently broken up with a football player who was a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity. According to her interview with the investigating police officer, she was very upset by the break up and the fact that she and Remy had to ride a bus with her ex-boyfriend to and from the dance, which was held in Lexington. The police never interviewed the dates ex-boyfriend, who she later had a verbal altercation with.

Remy’s date said that he danced with her and other girls at the dance and many people were happy to see him there. She also said that she didn’t notice anything unusual with him, neither did his roommate who saw him before the dance.

The investigation done by Georgetown Police left several unanswered questions for the family and activists working with the family.

In this two-part report we will first present current interviews with Remy’s mother, a Kentucky activist and a Scott County Pastor. We’ll also speak with a reporter and filmmaker who has researched Black male hanging deaths.

Next Month: We’ll share details from the crime scene and the police report. We will also conduct follow up interviews with several agencies and Georgetown College to see if any new information has been found and where the investigation stands.

Five Years Later

Remy’s mother, Joyce, and her family have returned to North Carolina where Remy spent the first 10 years of his life. Joyce is no closer to obtaining closure regarding her son, “That bothers me because I do still feel that something happened other than what was said.”

It’s not just Joyce and her family, many people question how Remy died. “Over the years it has not died down, people tell me that they’ve heard different things. People always say that they don’t believe he committed suicide.”

Joyce has spent more than $5000 investigating Remy’s death. “Up to two years after he died, I invested a lot of time, money and effort and I couldn’t even find a lawyer in Kentucky to take the case. They were all connected to Georgetown in some way, or just didn’t think we could win,” she said.

“Now that I look back, I wish I’d have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Georgetown instead of waiting on the State Police and coroner to come back with reports. All that did was take time away and I put my trust in the criminal justice system and they failed me miserably. Maybe I could have truly found out what happened,” she opines.

Joyce has joined a grief support group, Compassionate Friends, and met a few parents whose children committed suicide and she has learned that there are usually signs that you didn’t notice before hand. She still does not see any signs that would have indicated that Remy would take his own life. “It’s instincts. I just don’t feel it. There were no signs before that. I’ve met parents who had something that triggered it, but I don’t know of anything that did. If so, I don’t know about it. All I want to know is the truth, what really happened.”

 “You’re never the same again. I think of Remy everyday,” said Joyce. “That was the worst thing to ever happen to me. I’ve had to move from Kentucky because I had so many visual reminders,” she said. “I felt it was time to start over again. I’m doing well, but it’s been really hard. You’re never the same.

“I don’t feel that [Georgetown College] cared about the well-being of their students. Remy wouldn’t have been there if they hadn’t kept calling and calling saying how great a school it was and how much they wanted him there. I tell any parent ‘go by your gut feeling’. I never felt good about Remy being in this white fraternity. I don’t think everyone agreed with him being there.” Mrs. Bell Murphy suggested to Remy that he join his late fathers fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma.

Mrs. Bell Murphy believes that there may have been more to the situation between Remy and his date’s ex-boyfriend. “I can’t prove it. But…” , her voice trails off.

One thing would allow Mrs. Bell-Murphy to lay her son to rest, “To know exactly what happened. What were the events that lead up to his death?””

Mattie F. Jones drove from Louisville to the campus of Georgetown College many times with the late Rev. Louis Coleman and others seeking justice in Remy’s case. “Both of us felt like this was such an important issue and the evidence was there. We say, again the system failed us,” she said.

Ms. Jones feels that Georgetown College could have done more. “They have enough money, the Alumni are very wealthy, they could have hired a special investigative team to come in and give some closure regarding the death of our young brother.”

“I would say, my own opinion, because of what happened with [Remy] and the athlete about this young lady [I believe] he was upset because a Black man was able to take his lady. And I do believe that he should have been the main one to be investigated,” continued Jones.

“We can’t let this die. And we must let our children know that this happened and no one around that college campus was concerned enough, to do enough to make us comfortable and to give us closure to this situation.”

Jones says we must send our children back to Black colleges. “I tell all of our children, let’s take this Federal money home. Let’s go back to the colleges from whence we came, that loved us! When the white race turned us away, and said we were ignorant and couldn’t learn, the Black schools brought us through. We had more doctors and lawyers graduating from Hampton, Howard and Fisk. So I would recommend that all young brothers and sisters and decent minded whites, go on back to our roots. We’ve got to go back home.”

Rev. Lamont Jones was the only Scott County pastor to support Mrs. Bell-Murphy and call for a better investigation of Remy’s death. “This is tragic. I don’t believe justice was done in this case,” said the Great Crossing Missionary Baptist Church Pastor.

Not Alone

Keith Beauchamp is an independent filmmaker and host of “The Injustice Files” on the Investigative Discovery Network. Beauchamp produced “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” which uncovered new evidence in the half-century-old murder case that led to the FBI reopening the case and exhuming Till’s corpse.

This season, Beauchamp investigated closed cases of Black men found hanging in trees in “At The End of a Rope”.

Beauchamp chose four stories from nearly 30 cases. He spent countless hours with family members who were certain that their loved one did not commit suicide, but each case was ruled that by investigators.

“ No one wants to believe that lynching still happens. Authorities go to the scene of the crime and rule suicide without following proper procedure and once they are ruled suicide, no one does anything else,” explained Beauchamp.

“I believe many local police departments are not experienced enough to deal with this type of act and mistakes are made at the beginning stages. They act too quickly to rule suicide.”

In the cases profiled in “At The End of a Rope”, none had the typical proof of suicide. There weren’t letters left behind, patterns of depression, no strange behavior. “No type of sign. I’m not saying that it’s not possible, but young Black men have had the lowest number of suicides forever. Then all of a sudden they are killing themselves and choosing the taboo method of hanging themselves from trees? This is something that I don’t believe is in our psyche to do,” he said.

Beauchamp is not familiar with the case of Remy Okonkwo at this time, however he is reviewing the police records and will give his opinion on Remy’s death investigation in our report next month.

The filmmaker said that the respected Black Psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Puissant said that he doesn’t believe that a young African American male would do that to himself. But, if he did, he’d feel very bad about himself and feel like he wasn’t worth anything. The act of hanging could be a statement.

Joyce Bell Murphy saw this series and it was cathartic for her. “Watching these stories I felt I’m not alone. That I’m not crazy,” she said.

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