The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What we know about the killing of 5-year-old Cannon Hinnant

Cannon Hinnant was riding his bike in front of his house when he was fatally shot. (Gwen Hinnant)

Authorities in North Carolina have charged a man with first-degree murder in the Sunday shooting of Cannon Hinnant, a 5-year-old boy who was days shy of starting kindergarten.

Darrius Sessoms, a next-door neighbor of the boy’s father, is being jailed without bond following his arrest on Monday. The child’s killing, which unfolded a day earlier outside the house he shared with his dad in Wilson, N.C., sparked widespread outrage across the nation. His name trended on social media, accompanied by demands for justice, and a fundraiser for his family collected more than $400,000.

By Friday, the Wilson Police Department had offered only sparse details about the crime, with officials declining to answer questions from reporters. No motive has been released, and answers have eluded the family of the precocious boy, who they say loved Spider-Man, riding his bike and his camouflage Crocs.

“There is nothing that I could imagine that anyone would have a reason just to run up and shoot a child,” Cannon’s grandmother, Gwen Hinnant, told The Washington Post. “So I can’t — I mean, I just can’t think of a reason why that seems plausible.”

Sessoms, 25, had his first court appearance on Tuesday. In a brief hearing held by video conference, he told a judge he would hire an attorney rather than use a public defender, CBS-17 reported. A court clerk said none was listed for him as of Friday.

He served two short stints in prison in 2017, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. One was for felony drug possession, while another was for felony firearm and drug charges.

On three occasions, police charged Sessoms with maintaining a house for drug activity, according to the newspaper. In one case, he was convicted. Another was dismissed; a third charge was pending.

Austin Hinnant, Cannon’s father, told the Wilson Times that he had a neighborly relationship with Sessoms. The night before the shooting, Hinnant was grilling chicken and noticed him “sitting in his car, like he had a lot on his mind.”

He invited Sessoms over. The two sat on the front porch, sipping beer together.

“The Lord says to love your neighbor,” Hinnant said, according to the Wilson Times. “I was trying to do something nice.”

The next day, he said, Cannon was riding his bike in front of the house after the family returned home from church. From inside the house, Hinnant heard a loud noise. He hurried outside, where he found Cannon on the ground.

“I just scooped him up in my arms and held him and held him,” Hinnant told WRAL. “And I screamed, ‘Somebody help me, please, help me save my son. God, save my son, please.’ ”

He said he saw Sessoms pacing in his own yard, adding: “I have no idea why he would kill my son.”

Police and paramedics arrived and tended to Cannon. He was rushed to a hospital, where he died of his injuries.

Authorities identified Sessoms as the suspect the same night. The U.S. Marshals Carolinas Violent Fugitive Task Force was among the agencies that helped track him down a day later inside a house in Goldsboro, about a half-hour from Wilson.

Soon after it was reported, Cannon’s story was seized upon by some conservative outlets as an example of what they view as selective outrage among the left and the mainstream media. Amid a national reckoning over racial injustice, they pushed the claim that the story was being ignored because of race: Cannon was White, while Sessoms is Black. Police have given no indication that race was a factor in the crime, which received coverage in national outlets including USA Today, Fox News and CNN within five days of occurring. Cannon’s father and grandmother have said they do not believe the killing was racially motivated.

George Floyd's death on May 25 has spurred people around the world to call out what they see as racial injustices and police brutality in their own countries. (Video: The Washington Post)

Austin Hinnant told the Wilson Times that while his family appreciated the support they have received, he has been disturbed by online comments suggesting race played a role.

“This is no racial issue,” Hinnant said, adding that he was praying for the people behind those posts.

Gwen Hinnant said she agreed that Cannon’s death deserved more attention, adding that he was “an innocent child taken away for no reason.” He was funny and smart and had just learned to write his name. She doesn’t want him to be forgotten.

The family held a funeral Thursday, and plans for a vigil and a commemorative bike ride are underway. Some in Wilson have taken to wearing Crocs, calling it “#CroccinForCannon."

“There’s a lot of leaning on each other right now,” Gwen Hinnant said. “Obviously, we do have faith, and that is part of what is helpful. We do believe there’s a higher power and there’s a reason for everything. We just don’t understand what that reason is.”

Read more:

A Florida girl witnessed her mother’s fatal shooting while in a Zoom class, police said

Released prisoner accused of raping, killing Virginia woman has died

‘You’re going to jail’: Body-cam video shows an 8-year-old Florida boy arrested at school