Cannon Hinnant was ‘innocent, loving.’ How town is healing after the 5-year-old’s murder – The Bakersfield Californian

Posted in Tattoo Shop on Aug 28, 2020

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.

But for days afterward, it drew new visitors like Cannon's mother, the mayor of Wilson, a pair of paramedics, a young Hispanic couple, a pair of elderly retirees.

In front of it, the city released its pain and shared its sadness in public, finding common ground on the streets many feared would turn to unrest.

"We tend to pull together in times of crisis," said Ruth Godwin, a retired nurse viewing the mural. "I have a 5-year-old grandson. I feel for both the mothers. Two families are hurting."

Nearly 100 miles away, retiring Superior Court Judge Carl Fox, the first Black judge to serve in his Orange-Chatham County district, posted a Facebook picture of Cannon playing in a sandbox.

"Just so we don't forget." he wrote. "Children like little Cannon Hinnant are sometimes the innocent victims of gun violence."

Wilson was to hold a large public vigil on a Friday night after Cannon died, but his family explained they needed time to heal and mourn. They weren't ready, they said.

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."

Carolyn Sessoms, the accused shooter's mother, cannot speak of that day without breaking down.

Her son had a long string of charges, including maintaining a drug house while he was living with his mother. He served two short stints in prison in 2017 for drug and firearms charges, but she thought he was improving. He is being held without bond in the Wilson County jail, where he is jailed on first-degree murder charges.

His mother said that on the day of the shooting, she didn't recognize her son. He had become somebody else, convinced he was being pursued by the devil.

"We are so sorry," she said on her front porch, shaking with tears. "I just keep seeing that baby. That beautiful baby. This is a peaceful neighborhood and we just told our neighbors we are so sorry."

The two families, living feet apart, had no issues, Carolyn Sessoms said last week. Austin Hinnant, Cannon's father, told ABC-11 he and Sessoms shared a beer the night before the shooting.

Carolyn Sessoms also recalled speaking to Cannon's father, shortly before the shooting. He had told her that he was planning to move away from Wilson because he could not find work.

"I wish he had moved," she told the N&O last week, crying. "I wish he had moved."


For much of the 20th century, Wilson reigned as the state's tobacco capital. Sitting off Interstate 95, about 45 minutes east of Raleigh, it works hard to redefine itself as the old warehouses sit idle and ivy grows over old brick smokestacks.

Much like Raleigh, the city has invested heavily in its downtown, and though some of its main streets show boarded-up windows and empty storefronts, it is finding new energy with Japanese fusion restaurants and art galleries.

Its new whirligig park, full of 50-foot sculptures made by folk artist Vollis Simpson, has pulled tens of thousands of visitors off the highway and created enough traffic for a brewery across the street and a bandstand for summer concerts.

In the middle of that, Tierce arrived as a stranger on Monday, stopping at the Everlasting Impressions tattoo shop on Goldsboro Street, asking if they had some outdoor wall space to spare.

All of the artists there have children. They felt unable to refuse.

"Through all this, all the negativity, it's good to see people with the same values," said Thomas Cobb, his bald head decorated with ink. "He came all that way. We figured it would take a week, and he said, 'I'll be done today. I've got to go to work tomorrow.' And that paint wasn't cheap. It's not Krylon you could get at the drug store. It's top of the line."

He walked back to greet people stopping to admire the mural, telling them the story of the artist from Cleveland. Visitors laid flowers and teddy bears underneath the tall blue letters, taking pictures, standing silently.

"Wilson is in a different place than many other cities that surround us," said Mayor Carlton Stevens. "Although we have very diverse communities, we have a sense of family and togetherness. For Wilsonians, regardless of the color of your skin, we want the best for our neighbor, and when our neighbor hurts, we hurt."

If Wilson is experiencing any unrest, it stems from the feeling that Cannon's death has been ignored.

News of his killing appeared on CNN and in newspapers from Toronto to London, but the feeling persists that, in the summer of Black Lives Matter protests, the slain 5-year-old has not gotten the same attention.

"Think about George Floyd," said Adam Kitchen, who owns the Wilson tattoo shop. "Every channel you had on was about that dude, about that dude, about that dude. I don't care black, white, whatever. This kid was 5 years old. He never got to see his prom. He never got to have a girlfriend. He never got to experience hardship. His life was taken."

After the mural went up behind the shop, another volunteer arrived. This one had another request, Kitchen said. He wanted to clean up the courtyard where the mural stood.

For hours, he pulled up weeds and picked up trash, getting the space clear. Then he placed a plastic flower at the center, beneath the little boy's silhouette.

(c)2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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Cannon Hinnant was 'innocent, loving.' How town is healing after the 5-year-old's murder - The Bakersfield Californian

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