WILSON, N.C. — Two weeks ago, a 5-year-old boy, only weeks from starting kindergarten, was riding his bicycle through his father’s front yard when a man shot him in the head at point-blank range.
Shocked, people in this city of 50,000 felt a wave of grief for Cannon Hinnant’s family, lighting candles on the courthouse steps, sending donations that topped $200,000. But as Wilson made international headlines as the scene of a brutal crime, it also braced for ugly backlash.
Police charged Cannon’s next-door neighbor, 25-year-old Darius Sessoms, with first-degree murder. Social media exploded with racist rhetoric and demands for public outrage. Sessoms is Black, Cannon was white.
As the days passed, a truer account of Cannon’s death emerged.
Sessoms’ mother, Carolyn, said her son shot Cannon in a drug-fueled haze that her family was powerless to stop. She said she had gone to church earlier that day and found him in the home they shared, unrecognizable.
In tears on her front porch, Carolyn Sessoms shook with grief as she talked to a News & Observer reporter last week and explained, “We think he had gotten hold of something. He was hallucinating. We tried to get the gun out of his hand, but he was so strong. He was so strong.”
A week after the shooting, Shane Tierce drove 600 miles from Cleveland with his car full of spray paint. A graffiti artist, he has created murals on walls around the country, many of them memorializing children who died from gun violence.
Over four hours Monday, he painted a mural of Cannon on his bicycle, his silhouette framed inside the word “Innocent.” The mural is hidden from the street, painted on a brick wall in a courtyard behind a tattoo parlor.
In the days after the shooting, Cannon’s mother Bonny Waddell posted on her Facebook page that she wanted her son’s killer to “burn in hell.” But as the communities around Wilson held vigils and a bike-a-thon, and began encouraging people to wear Crocs, Cannon’s preferred shoe, the tone of those messages changed.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with race,” Waddell wrote, “and do not compare this to (George) Floyd! My sweet Cannon never saw color, he loved everybody. He was innocent, loving, selfless, best brother ever and this cruel man took him away from us for no reason.”