The tragic events which took place Thursday afternoon in downtown Sanford go far beyond the lives of the people directly involved – the shocking public suicide of Chris Feaster, followed by the revelation that he had been accused of rape shortly before killing himself felt like a one-two punch that resonated throughout the Sanford and Lee County communities.
The events that unfolded Thursday afternoon touched dozens from the start. The Rant first began receiving phone calls and text messages around 2 p.m. from people who were in the area. A man holding a gun was talking to police outside the old Love’s Grocery Store at Charlotte Avenue and First Street; traffic had been blocked in both directions and diners inside the nearby La Dolce Vita Pizzeria had been told to stay inside because an active shooter was in the area.
Almost immediately thereafter, the Rant received reports that police had shot the man, later revealed to be Feaster. We reported as such, only to find out minutes later that Feaster had shot himself after a lengthy effort by authorities to convince him not to do so.
Errors happen, and we always regret them. We scrambled to make this one right – incidents of police shooting civilians obviously are controversial in this day and age, and it was important not only to own our mistake but also to let Sanford and Lee County know that the police in this case had done everything they could to save a life.
By this point, about half an hour had gone by. A person, still unidentified, was dead. But it wasn’t long before a name began appearing over and over on social media – Chris Feaster. Police had not provided a name by the time Thursday was over, but the news was out: Feaster, a 28 year old who seemed to know and love everyone possible in a small community like Lee County, had decided to take his own life, even as police officers who knew him pleaded with him not to.
Feaster by all accounts was a well-regarded young man with deep ties to the community – he’d played McGruff the Crime Dog at youth events for local law enforcement, and he was apparently a fixture at Southern Lee athletic events. His many friends took to social media on Thursday following news of his death, posting tributes to his memory, makeshift memorial shot up overnight at the site of his death, and a Gofundme campaign to cover his funeral expenses has raised more than $6,000 of its $8,000 goal as of this writing.
All of that made it that much more shocking when the other shoe dropped. Friday afternoon, police issued a followup statement, not just identifying Feaster as the victim of a public suicide, but claiming that he had been accused of rape just prior to his death.
“Officers were called to a business on South Horner Boulevard in reference to a female victim reporting that she had been raped at gunpoint,” read the release. “The suspect was identified by the victim as being Christopher Kierra Feaster. After further investigation detectives obtained evidence to corroborate the allegations.”
There’s a lot to unpack in those three sentences, but the community by and large was not having it. Hundreds of negative comments poured into the Sanford Herald’s Facebook post on the matter, despite the fact that all the Herald was doing was reporting allegations against an individual made by law enforcement – one of the media’s most basic and primary duties. At the Rant, we received some of the same negativity, if on a smaller scale.
We’ve left up our coverage of Chris Feaster’s friends and family memorializing him, and asking for donations to cover his funeral expenses because these are important parts to this story. But equally important is that people give space to his accuser, whom we have no reason to disbelieve, and to the authorities who have to sort through this matter.
It’s hard to know what, if anything, will happen next. Accusers in rape cases aren’t typically named by media, and with Feaster’s death there obviously can’t be a trial to prove his guilt or innocence. It’s hard to know what police mean when they say they’ve collected evidence implicating Feaster in the rape. Some Facebook commenters have suggested DNA evidence, which likely would not be corroborated so quickly.
Given that the alleged incident is said to have taken place at a South Horner Boulevard business (police didn’t say which one), that evidence could be security footage, or a statement from an eye witness, or neither. Any speculation along those lines is just that. Will police at some point share, or at least say more about the nature of this evidence? We don’t know.
But assuming the evidence is what authorities say it is (corroborating), there’s a victim who has suffered a very serious trauma. It will certainly be hard to make that fit with the memory of a man who was by all accounts was loved across and throughout the community.
Feaster’s accuser, his friends and family, the police officers who watched him take his own life, and the community in general have all suffered in the last few days. Nothing good came out of Thursday’s events.