A Murder In My Hometown
I’ve covered a lot of murders.
For whatever reason, this one bothers me more than most. Maybe it’s his age, the way he died, all the unknowns still unknown. “Tragic” does not seem to be a strong enough word.
Following is a story I wrote a week ago recapping the life – and murder – of a 17-year-old. It first appeared in The Newnan Times-Herald.
(Editor’s note: Times-Herald staff writer John Winters has been following the Blake Chappell case since it broke before Christmas.)
Blake Chappell loved skateboarding; he was a master at Guitar Hero.
On Facebook, there is a photo of him sitting, guitar in hand, playing that video game.
“When he played, he would turn around and talk to me… and not miss a single note on that game. He amazed me with it,” a friend posted below the photo.
That photo pops up on other Facebook pages.
“He didn’t just play it, he owned it and every other song any of the Guitar Hero’s had to offer,” another wrote.
One of his favorite songs to play was “Carry On My Wayward Son,” a Top 40 hit by the band Kansas.
On Dec. 29, 2011, Chappell’s friends and family gathered to hear that song again.
It was at his funeral service.
* * *
Chappell’s body was pulled from a creek running through the upscale Newnan SummerGrove neighborhood Dec. 19, 2011. The last time friends and family had contact with him was two months prior — Oct. 16.
The decomposed body was in the water for at least several days. He was clad in nothing but underwear and an undershirt. An autopsy showed he was shot.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Newnan Police Department officials will not release the location of the gunshot or if there was more than one.
It was the first and only homicide in Newnan in 2011.
The city is offering a $20,000 reward, its largest ever, for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.
* * *
“He was my best friend, my whole world pretty much,” Kaitlyn Haas said. “And my world shattered when I found out. He was such a friendly person. I don’t know why anyone would do this to him.”
Haas has a photo of Chappell running across the top of her Facebook page. She’s planning on getting a tattoo in his memory. She’s still working on the design, but knows she one thing that will be on it.
It’s the date 2-17-09, “which is when we started being best friends (our friendship-aversary).”
Haas said she last spoke to Chappell about a week before he went missing.
“He was so fun loving and full of life. He always made sure everyone was happy before he was,” she said.
“He lived by the motto, “Live for today. Tomorrow is never promised.”
* * *
As of now, police do not have any suspects, said Newnan Police Deputy Chief Rodney Riggs.
The department received about 20 or so calls after the $20,000 reward offer was publicized.
Riggs called them “decent leads” and police continue to follow them up.
“These were people who were genuinely concerned about Blake and what happened,” Riggs said. “There are no eyewitnesses, but someone heard something we should check out or thought we ought to talk to someone.”
Police interviewed a few people who might have had some “confrontation” with Chappell in the past, but all were cleared.
“We continue to interview friends and follow up,” Riggs said. “We are waiting for the crime lab to give us some information that may help us in what direction we need to proceed.”
Riggs declined to comment on what that information is they await.
* * *
Melissa Chappell Becker, Blake’s mother, also has a Facebook page.
On Dec. 27, 2011, she posted a notice about the times and dates for visitation and funeral services for her son.
Her next post came Jan. 1.
“Newnan Police Department is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who took my son’s life. Please, if you have any information call the police department.”
She’s also posted that same photo of her son playing Guitar Hero. There’s another one taken at the funeral; others show him hanging out with friends.
And then there’s one of what anyone would simply call a cute couple. It’s a smiling Chappell with his arm around his girlfriend. He’s in all black with a blue and pink striped tie.
“The day before he was murdered, Homecoming dance,” his mother wrote in the caption.
* * *
Police are still unsure when Chappell was killed or where.
“We have not determined the exact location of the shooting,” Riggs said, adding they believe the body was placed in the creek that runs alongside the driving range at SummerGrove’s golf course.
Despite what television crime shows can do in an hour, determining time of death is not always an exact science. The water temperature and the decaying body have made it difficult for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab to give police a time of death, or even how long the body was in the water.
Authorities believe Chappell’s body was put in the creek somewhere between Lower Fayetteville Road and the bridge at SummerGrove Parkway.
Chappell’s body was found face down about 20-25 yards past the south end of the bridge. Soon after the discovery, friends placed flowers, balloons and other memorabilia on the bridge.
Investigators have walked the banks and raked the creek, but have not found any other clothing, Riggs said.
* * *
As of this week, 204 people have signed up to a Facebook “events” page to remember Chappell.
“Take a moment of silence to remember all the good memories you had with Blake and to pay your respects to him,” it says.
The event is set for Feb. 7, Chappell’s birthday.
There is a link to a video tribute there. And there’s also a lot of comments, although those have died down and the last post was Jan. 3.
There is also another plea from his mother.
“Thank you all for your support during this time. I am asking that if you have ANY information about who was involved in his murder to please, please contact the Newnan Police Department. You may remain anonymous, please help us provide justice for Blake.”
Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/events/267022253355403/
Another site, R.I.P. Blake Chappell, has dozens of photos. But it too has gone quiet. It’s at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RIP-Blake-Chapelle/153332924770036
* * *
On Oct. 15 of last year, Chappell and his girlfriend attended the homecoming dance at East Coweta High School.
Afterward, he went to a friend’s house on Highwoods Parkway. He left there about 2 a.m. and went to his girlfriend’s house over on Avondale Circle in the nearby Olmstead neighborhood.
He left around 5 a.m. after his girlfriend’s parents caught him. He then sent a series of texts to various friends, as well as his girlfriend and her mother, for about 30 minutes.
According to Riggs, his last text — this to his girlfriend — was made around 5:30 a.m.
Later that morning his girlfriend called the friend’s house on Highwoods Parkway, where Chappell said he was headed, Riggs said. The friend said Chappell never showed up.
Friends, the girlfriend and her parents began looking for Chappell. One of them flagged down a police vehicle patrolling in the SummerGrove area. The officer put out a bulletin and advised them to call Chappell’s mother to make a missing person’s report, Riggs said.
Chappell’s mother called the police later that morning after being notified about her son’s disappearance.
* * *
Some comments made on various Facebook pages as they were written:
“I miss you so so much”
“it will never be the same without you here. i miss you man”
“Blake. I ride in my car everyday. Ive never looked in the back seat & started crying bc all I could see was you sittin there smilen lookin at me in the front seat. I remember shay sayin yall just kiss already. & we kissed finally! Lol.”
“blake you will never be forgotten you touched my heart in so many ways and i will miss you every sec of my life i love u sweetheart”
“R.I.P Blake. Known for your red hair, jumpy attitude, but caring personality”
“Blake, I remember all the things we did it was stupid and crazy, but God only knows how much I miss you !! I miss talking on the phone most of the night with you. I actually miss sneaking out with you!”
“Blake you were one of my first ever boyfriends. i remember sitting in class getting in trouble everyday for holding hands.”
“blake . everyone loved you so much. you meant so much to everyone that knew you . you made everyone smile, you touched everyones heart . you will be greatly missed & always remembered.
* * *
Police did not suspect foul play at the time of Chappell’s disappearance.
“The officer interviewed the friends and there was some thought he (Chappell) might have run away because of issues going on in his life at the time,” Riggs said.
His case was treated as other missing persons incidents, with officers given photos to check while on routine patrol. There were no known medical problems that could cause Chappell to be incapacitated and he did not have any known enemies who had threatened him, Riggs said.
Authorities obtained the text records of Chappell’s phone, and have talked with everyone he communicated with during those last hours.
None of those interviewed are suspects, Riggs said, adding the texts involved friends, Chappell’s girlfriend and her parents.
* * *
“He was a one-of-a-kind person. He would always stand by you. If you were ever in trouble, he’d be there. Blake helped so many people and he changed so many lives.”
I remember writing down those words.
They were spoken by Brent Beaman, who lived on the same street as Chappell. Beaman made and posted the video tribute to Chappell.
“I know his one wish would be for us to cherish every minute of our lives, to live every day as if it’s our last, as he did. There wasn’t a happier man.”
I remember writing down those words.
They were spoken by Michael Ripley, Chappell’s half-brother.
I remember writing down those words as I sat next to Deputy Chief Riggs on a pew in the chapel.
And I remember, after they spoke, the song “Carry On My Wayward Son” played.
And I remember it was Dec. 29, 2011 — my 50th birthday.
And I remember that Blake Tyler was only 17.