At around sunset on April 4, 2021, a group of about 60 people gathered at Davis Flohr Neighborhood Park in NoDa for a candlelight vigil memorializing Mary Collins, a 20-year-old woman whose body was recovered from an apartment complex on Rollerton Road just blocks away from the park one year prior.
At the vigil, friends and family members — some of them wore face masks that read “Mary’s Voice” — told how they had met Mary and shared other memories. The overall vibe was more like a funeral than a protest, but under the surface, there’s an anger bubbling around Mary’s murder.
It’s not just about justice, or at least not in the way that many people think about that word. Collins’ alleged killers were arrested rather quickly.
As Liz Logan reports in this week’s News feature, the first part of which will hit our website tomorrow, what stings about Mary’s death is how long it took police to act on her case. Mary went missing after going to hang out at the apartment on March 28, 2020. Two days later, after her family couldn’t reach her, Mary’s grandmother went there to look for her.
Police refused to look for Mary in any meaningful way for nearly a week despite pleas from her family informing them that Mary suffered from a socially crippling disability and ensuring them she would not simply take off and ignore their calls.
For five days, Mary’s family sat watch over the apartment, rotating so that someone was watching the entrances and exits of the building at all times. Unfortunately, after five days, their worst fears were imagined after police finally decided to agree to do a search of the apartment, but only after they had originally told Mary’s family members to stop harassing the people who lived there — who were later charged with murder.
For Collins’ family, justice looks like reform, which is why they’ve formed Mary’s Voice. The organization is dedicated to following the court process for all four people charged in her murder, but also fighting for folks like Mary who are learning disabled and/or differently abled.
As Collins’ grandmother Mia Alderman told Logan, it made no sense to her that the police were telling her to file a missing persons report.
“She wasn’t missing,” Alderman said. “I knew where she was and who had her.”
The police, however, seemed to be convinced that Mary had gone off somewhere on her own accord. They refused to prioritize the case, telling the family they believed the people who lived in the apartment when they said she had simply left.
They believed them despite Mary’s family trying to educate them on her condition, known as 22q11 Deletion Syndrome, which has numerous effects on a person’s development.
“Mary could take care of herself to an extent but there was no way in hell she could navigate anything or go out into the world and know where she was going,” explained Mary’s aunt, Alex Gallo.
Police were also aware that Mary had been bullied in the past by the very people living in the apartment, but still refused to act.
Mary’s story reminds me of another time a woman was ignored by the CMPD while trying to receive help. In 2019, WFAE’s Sarah Delia released She Says, a podcast series that follows a woman through the justice system as she attempts to find justice for a sexual assault she suffered through at the hands of a stranger.
One episode takes listeners into the interview room with the survivor and the investigating officers, who won’t answer her when she asks them if they think she’s lying. Her cries are devastating; I can still hear them reverberating today, two years after listening to the series.
According to CMPD, only 10% of the thousands of missing persons reports that come in each year end up involving foul play. But that doesn’t excuse the inaction. Mary’s family was sure of what they knew: that Mary was in dire danger. And yet they were ignored.
What is one to do when the folks who are meant to serve and protect you refuse to do either?
For one, take matters into their own hands. The actions of Mary’s family and friends that week — even as they were accused of harassment by police — ensured that those inside the apartment couldn’t leave with her body. If they hadn’t stuck to their plan, the case could still be open today.
Beyond that, it’s important to fight for change through advocacy and reform. As tragic as her story is, it’s inspiring to know that her family will be sure to continue to uplift Mary’s Voice.
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