Hundreds of people were present at a Payne Street party in Lexington where a 20-year-old college student was fatally shot last year, but witnesses have provided no help to police trying to find the shooter.
Madilyn Grisham, a University of Kentucky student who friends described as “sweet and charismatic … talented and kindhearted,” was an unintended target gunned down at a party that police believe was being held illegally. Without eyewitness accounts, her homicide case remains open since the Nov. 29 shooting.
She’s not the only victim whose family has suffered because of uncooperative witnesses. Two different groups were present when 18-year-old Mykel Waide — also a college student — was shot and killed at a hotel on Newtown Pike. The altercation occurred at a smaller gathering than the one that led to Grisham’s death, police Lt. Paul Boyles said, but investigators know “a lot of people” saw something happen and won’t talk.
Silent spectators are nothing new for the city’s homicide detectives. “The majority” of shootings feature uncooperative witnesses, according to Boyles. Oftentimes, even the victims of non-fatal shootings won’t tell police who shot them.
Boyles, a lieutenant in the Bureau of Investigation, told the Herald-Leader he understands why some key witnesses refuse to comply. But it still frustrates him.
“If not being forthcoming in these kinds of cases is simply a way to either show frustration with the police or get back at the police for perceived wrongs nationwide or locally, I can accept that,” Boyles said. “But what they should also recognize is that they’re not doing justice by those families by not being forthcoming.”
Boyles oversees the personal crimes section of the department’s investigation bureau, which houses the robbery/homicide unit. Homicide detectives have 20 open investigations from 2020 and 2021. Another eight from 2019 remain unsolved. Lack of cooperation from witnesses causes “perceived delays” in the public eye, Boyles said.
‘No case is like TV’
Witness accounts can help speed up an investigation. Without input from those who were there, Investigators have to find other ways to establish probable cause for search warrants to uncover more evidence. In the age of technology, those warrants can get more complicated.
For instance, applying for search warrants for mobile devices and getting results back from cell phone providers and social media companies can take three to six months, Boyles said.
Police Chief Lawrence Weathers previously said investigators will often rely on evidence from the crime scene when witnesses don’t come forward. Weathers said it can take months or even years for evidence to come in, get analyzed, and produce results for the investigation.
“No case is like TV,” Boyles said. “It doesn’t get wrapped up in an hour, and the whole first 48 thing is not accurate at all. Cases take time.”
Boyles said sometimes people expect detectives to act like “rogue cops” from TV shows who are willing to overstep legal bounds, busting down suspects’ doors and seizing property to close a case quickly.
In reality, detectives are much more “careful and methodical,” he said.
Lexington victim’s family: ‘Quit covering up for them’
Waide was days short of attending the University of Louisville when he was shot and killed on Aug. 16. He was enrolled at U of L and had moved most of his stuff to school in preparation for his first semester, according to Andre Maxberry, his grandma. But he wound up a victim when he came back to Lexington to get the rest of his belongings and say goodbye to his friends.
Maxberry told the Herald-Leader she knows police have tried to talk to witnesses on scene at the Residence Inn where Waide was killed. The efforts haven’t produced anything.
“There were a lot of people that we know to have seen a lot of things who are just not being forthcoming,” Boyles said.
Maxberry has said previously she’s tired of homicide witnesses not cooperating with police, even if she understands some of the concerns about talking. She alleges that officers have been intimidating with some of her family members to make them talk, and it has caused them to shut investigators out instead.
But she wants justice for Waide and others.
“Quit covering up for them, stop it … It’s not called snitching, it’s called saving a life,” Maxberry said to community members in April during a Lexington rally to stop gun violence.
Many at Lexington party ‘saw something and knew something’
Lexington was in the middle of one of its worst COVID-19 outbreaks when Grisham was killed in the Payne Street shooting in November. Property owners felt the financial strain of business restrictions enacted to keep case numbers low, and the party Grisham was attending was an unintended consequence of that, according to Boyles.
“There were several of these promoters who were looking for warehouses or other large, open-type businesses that were suffering due to COVID and could use a little bit of money,” Boyles said. The promoters would “take advantage of” the property owners and set up parties that often didn’t follow alcohol sale laws.
Business owners wound up “somewhat short-sighted, not really realizing what they were opening themselves up to,” Boyles said.
Boyles said the unregulated parties were promoted somewhat discretely on social media, so it was difficult for law enforcement to track them. Riley Hill, Grisham’s friend who was at the party with her, told the Herald-Leader they’d been invited to the party.
Grisham was there with a couple of friends, one of whom left earlier in the night. Hill and Grisham were there alone for the last three hours of the party, Hill said.
They were just “having a good time,” Michaux said.
“That’s when the shooting started” in the early-morning hours, Michaux said.
Police believe Grisham was an innocent bystander shot accidentally. Michaux told the Herald-Leader her granddaughter was shot in the back of the head while she was trying to run away from the scene.
“There were a lot of people that were there, nearby, even if they weren’t necessarily nearby Madilyn,” Boyles said. “They were somewhere where they saw something and knew something.”
Grisham’s mother, Kristina Grisham, has pleaded with people to come forward and tell police what happened. She’s posted fliers and images to Facebook advocating for witnesses to call investigators.
“This is a mother’s worst nightmare,” she said. “Someone killed my daughter, and I know someone (saw) or heard something about this senseless murder.”
Police to witnesses: Do what’s right for families, or yourself
Boyles said fear of being a victim may motivate some people to talk to police to “get somebody off the street that needs to be gotten off the street for your own safety.”
“You never know when you may be the Madilyn Grisham … or the Mykel, or … I could go through the entire list of all of our murders,” he said.
Beyond the fear of winding up another victim, Boyles urged witnesses and bystanders to violent crimes to also consider the families of people who died or got hurt.
“Regardless of whoever these people were, whether you knew them or not, they’re somebody’s son, daughter, somebody loves them,” he said. “Somebody cares about them. And whether you hate the police or not, or just don’t like us or don’t trust us, I think we all maybe need to get past some biases to do what’s right for the community and these families.”
Lexington police accept phone calls regarding criminal investigations at (859) 258-3600. The department also accepts anonymous tips through Bluegrass Crime Stoppers by calling (859) 253-2020 or online at www.bluegrasscrimestoppers.com.
Police make proactive efforts to build open communication
Law enforcement officers have made efforts to build relationships in the community with the hopes that residents will open up to investigators more often. The police department and sheriff’s office have recently hosted frequent food drives to hand out hundreds of food boxes to local families.
“They can talk to us about anything,” Weathers said during a recent food drive. “We’re handing them a box; we don’t want anything from them or anything like that.”
Weathers said he felt like the isolating pandemic made it difficult for community members to see police as normal people. The department has a lot of new officers who may be unfamiliar to residents. Weathers said fatal shootings elsewhere and other altercations between police and civilians have also hurt those relationships.
“We have to have information to solve crimes, big or small,” Weathers said. “If people aren’t willing to talk, those crimes go unsolved. If they can make that connection and feel confident that when they talk to us, something’s going to get done, then I’m all for that.”
CORRECTION: The number of friends at the party with Grisham was incorrectly stated in a previous version of this story.
Corrected May 24, 2021