Hate crime hoax

Sharmeka Moffitt

Two days after multiple law enforcement agencies began an investigation into the attack and burning of a Winnsboro woman at Civitan Park, authorities now believe the wounds were self-inflicted.

According to Winnsboro Police Chief Lester Thomas, evidenced gathered at the scene of the incident shows 20-year-old Sharmeka Moffitt’s initial claims that she was attacked and set on fire turned out to be false claims made up by Moffitt.

“This is a case in which the investigators had to pursue the facts that were presented,” Thomas said. “It’s been a very disturbing case for everyone involved.”

On Sunday, officers responded to a 911 call around 8 p.m. near the walking trail at Civitan Park to find Moffitt with burns covering her body. It was less than a minute from the time the call from Moffitt came into the 911 center that officers from the Winnsboro Police Department and the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office were on the scene at the park located on Hwy. 15.

Moffitt could not identify the race of her attackers, but said three men wearing “T-shirt hoodies” doused her in a flammable liquid and set her on fire at the park. The responding officers found no suspects or vehicles at the park where the attack allegedly occurred.

Moffitt was taken to Franklin Medical Center in Winnsboro and then transported to LSU Medical Center in Shreveport, where it was determined she had burns on over 60 percent of her body.

State Police arrived by helicopter with its crime lab team to gather evidence shortly after Moffitt was taken for medical assistance. Law enforcement officials gathered evidence from the scene all night, finishing its scaling of the crime scene by Monday morning.

After analyzing the evidence at the State Police Crime Lab, it was discovered Moffitt’s fingerprints were on the cigarette lighter and the lighter fluid recovered near the wooded area around the crime scene.

“There is more physical evidence along those lines that back this up,” Thomas said.

At a news conference held at LSU Medical Center on Monday evening, Moffitt’s mother, Edna Moffitt said her daughter was in critical condition with third-degree burns on her arms and other areas and would undergo surgery Tuesday.

False rumors regarding the incident were spread on various social media outlets Sunday night just hours after the incident took place. On many of the Twitter and Facebook posts, users speculated the attack was a hate crime and Moffitt was attacked for wearing a President Obama t-shirt when she was “raped and burned alive”.

Moffitt’s mother and Thomas confirmed Monday that the Obama T-shirt rumor was false and there was no evidence of sexual assault.

A racial slur and the letters, KKK, that were written in toothpaste on Moffitt’s vehicle were linked to female DNA, authorities said.

“All of the evidence is pointing back to the victim inflicting this upon herself,” Thomas said. “No evidence has shown any other person was involved.”

Thomas said that no matter the outcome of these types of tragic events, it’s always a heavy burden on law enforcement and the victim’s family.

“My heart truly goes out to the Moffitt family, who are more than just members of our community, they are my friends,” Thomas said. “I hope we can come together as a community and pray for their wellbeing and a quick recovery of Sharmeka.”

Candlelight vigils for Moffitt were held Monday night around Winnsboro before the facts of the case were revealed.

Franklin Parish Sheriff Kevin Cobb said the unity shown by the community on the heels of the incident was inspiring.

“I want to thank the community, who under these stressful times they allowed law enforcement to do their job to seek information, collect evidence and follow the facts,” Cobb said. “Although I think what she did was wrong and had major consequences not only for her, but throughout our community and our country. There’s something wrong here, and we need to help individuals like this. In the same way our community came to support her as a victim, I still hope the community will support her emotional and physical recovery.”

While Thomas and Cobb said no charges have been filed against Moffitt at this time, the case evidence will be turned over to the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review.

Thomas and Cobb said the collaborative efforts by their departments with the State Police and FBI helped in solving the case in a timely manner. – The Franklik Sun