Candace Pickens: 'Executed for refusing to have an abortion'
Family and friends are still trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy that took the life of a loving mother and ruined that of a child.
Candace Pickens was a wonderful mother to all who knew her. She had recently made plans to attend a community college and had found work. But more than anything, the 23-year-old from Asheville, North Carolina doted on her little son Zachaeus.
“She loved being a mother. And no matter what she was going through, I think he was the one thing that kept her going,” her aunt was quoted as saying.
“When she found out she was pregnant, she was scared at first. But once she had that baby, it was so natural for her," her aunt Irene Jenny Pickens told The Washington Post.
Police say Pickens was shot at point-blank range in the face and left near a jogging trail to die. Her body was found by a running in an Asheville park on May 12. And her little boy, who witnessed his mother's murder, was also shot in the face but is clinging onto life.
While Pickens was declared dead at the scene, medical examiner made a shocking discovery that has rocked the life of her close friends and family: Pickens was indeed pregnant. Many of her relatives and friends say they did not even know that Pickens was expecting a child. It was something that she didn't tell a lot of people. Police think they know why.
Investigators have a theory: They say her boyfriend, Nathaniel Elijah Dixon, didn't want kids -- and Pickens had recently gotten pregnant.
Pickens' aunt also believes that she was executed because of her refusal to take the life of her unborn child.
“He found out she was pregnant and he wanted her to abort the baby,” Irene Jenny Pickens told The Post. “She would never do that. It wasn’t an option for her, and that’s what sparked the violence.”
That jibes with what many are saying on Pickens' GoFundMe page. Vanessa Peterson wrote: "“She was always smiling and made the best out of life. She had recently found out she was pregnant and was murdered because she refused an abortion."
Her friend Vanessa Peterson said that Pickens was shaken one day the two were together.
“She came over to take a nap and a shower,” Peterson told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “(Candace) had just gotten out of the shower and was getting all cute. We lingered in the bathroom and were talking when she looked at me and said, ‘He told me if I don’t have an abortion that he’ll kill me.’
“Neither of us took it seriously,” she told the newspaper.
Media reports say that Pickens' 3-year-old son has lost one of his eyes and is in critical condition, but his grandmother wants the public to know that he is doing better.
"My grandson is in stable condition and doing great and he has the doctors surprised,” Waters told the Post. “He’s moving his arms and legs and he’s doing more than what people expected.”
Police say Nathaniel Elijah Dixon, who would become her boyfriend for only a short while, has a long rap sheet, according to media reports, including robbery charges and ties to a street gang in Los Angeles.
Dixon, who was arrested in Ohio, according to WLOS, is charged with first-degree murder and awaiting extradition to North Carolina.
Hours after Pickens was killed, Dixon went on Facebook and played the part of a shocked and grieving father: “Candace pickens was pregnant with my child…this morning i lost my child too,” he wrote, according to the Post.
Back in Asheville, a community vigil was organized on Facebook to remember Pickens, according to WNCN.
“It is time for us to come together to grieve the loss of a special, young mother. To support the mothers of our community, especially the single mothers,” the group said on Facebook.
Pickens' mother, Keesha Martinez, told WNCN that this tragedy will haunt 3-year-old Zachaeus for a long time. What made it worse, she said, was that the boy was shot on his third birthday.
“It’s just a sad tragedy that he has to grow up without a mom,” Martinez said. “The guy who did this is such a coward. He didn’t have to hurt her like that. He didn’t have to hurt my grandbaby like that. He took a beautiful life that I can’t get back,” Martinez was quoted as saying.
A GoFundMe page set up for Pickens' expenses and her child's recovery can be found here.