After he was found dead on the outskirts of Griffin, Georgia, in 1983, the trauma a young Black man’s family experienced hindered them from putting a headstone on his grave.
Because they did not know who took Timothy Wayne Coggins’ life or if the killer would attempt to vandalize a clearly-marked burial site, they held a rushed, frightened funeral and left it plain, his niece Heather Coggins said.
Now, three decades later, after charges have been brought against the two White men responsible for his slaying, Timothy Coggins’ name is finally etched into his grave site.
On Saturday the Coggins family presented the new headstone at their church in Zebulon, Georgia, about an hour drive south of Atlanta.
“This has been a very dark cloud on our family. But today we can see the sun will shine again,” said Tyrone Coggins, one of the victim’s brothers, during a spirited, 90-minute memorial service at Fuller’s Chapel United Methodist Church.
The body of Timothy Coggins was discovered by hunters in a field a short distance from a highway in the Sunny Side community, which sits a few miles north of Griffin.
For decades his death remained a mystery. That is, until authorities made the announcement they apprehended the culprits Frankie Gebhardt, 59, and Bill Moore Sr., 58, last October. Arrest warrants tell the gruesome story of how the men stabbed and sliced Coggins to death and left him “seriously disfigured.” According to one prosecutor, Coggins had also been dragged through the woods while tied to the back of a pickup truck. The motivation behind the heinous killing, according to Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ben Coker, was that Coggins, then 23, had “socialized with a White female.”
The Coggins family has long believed his death was somehow connected to racism, said Heather. She went on to say they were too scared to mark her uncle’s burial site at the time he was murdered, and as time continued to pass it was just left unmarked. But after the recent arrests were made in the case, she said family members pooled their money together to buy a headstone.
The tiny church in rural Georgia was packed with members of the huge, extended family, several of them wore t-shirts decorated with Timothy Coggins’ picture and the words “At Last … Resting in Peace. A number of them also had on purple ribbons — the favorite color of their deceased relative.
A lot of the relatives who knew Coggins have passed away — and the multitude of cousins, nephews and nieces who filled the church were, for the most part, too young to have known Coggins, though they all have heard stories about his death since their early years, said Coggins’ 35-year-old cousin Jennifer Stevenson.
“As his legacy, we feel as though we were robbed,” she said. They never had the chance to meet the man who was known for his delightful smile and slick dance moves. And Coggins himself never got to marry, settle down, have a career and get to know the generation that succeeded him.
“Our family is amazing, and we are confident he would have been proud of us,” Stevenson said during the service.
Many speakers told how Timothy Coggins was known for always walking his younger relatives home after dark.
“He always wanted to make sure everyone got home safely,” said Tyrone Coggins. “This is confirmation to the family that 34 years later, Tim made it home.”