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As community continues to grieve loss of Dr. Yvonne D. Nelson, police hunt suspected killer

Memphis Police on Wednesday issued a second-degree murder warrant for Tifanee Wright, 32, who is a suspect in the fatal shooting of staunch Whitehaven neighborhood activist Dr. Yvonne D. Nelson. 

There had been speculation that Nelson may have been a carjacking victim. Police said, however, Dr. Nelson was shot during an argument about money.

Officers were called to a shooting in the 5100 block of Yale Road just east of Covington Pike in Raleigh about 11 p.m. Aug. 13. Nelson was found dead, the result of multiple gunshot wounds.

Multiple witnesses told police a woman drove off in a late-model Infiniti, possibly belonging to Nelson. 

According to the MPD, multiple callers advised 911 that the suspect fled the scene in a newer model black Infiniti sedan. The department developed “a person of interest” in regard to the investigation and requested help from the community. (Photo: MPD)

Photos of the suspect were immediately released from surveillance camera footage, which caught the altercation before Nelson was shot. Police said the assailant took the victim’s car. 

Nelson knew her assailant, police said.

Police credit surveillance video from a nearby convenience store for helping to identify the alleged assailant as the person seen with Nelson before she was killed.

The video shows Nelson talking with the suspect. Then, both women step out of the frame.

Both stepped back into the frame, and the suspect fired what police say was a warning shot. She pointed the gun at the ground, and a puff of smoke is seen when the bullet hit the ground.

After that, both Nelson and her killer walked out of the frame, and that’s when Nelson was shot multiple times, police said.

Wright had not been arrested late Wednesday evening. Police asked that anyone knowing her whereabouts call CrimeStoppers at (901) 528-CASH (2274).

The slaying sparked outrage and new calls for action against gun. 

Press conference participants, including Pastor Kevin Brooks of Providence AME Church. (Courtesy photo)

A Tuesday afternoon press conference sparked calls for the mayor and City Council to enact some plan of action against gun violence in Memphis.

“We are feeling powerless and voiceless about the gun violence on our streets, especially our elders,” said Pastor Kevin Brooks of Providence AME Church.

“The pandemic of violence has run amuck, and we refuse to be hostages of fear in our homes and communities.”

Brooks was joined by Providence church leaders at the Aug. 16 event Downtown. Brooks said the group would deliver a letter to Mayor Jim Strickland to reiterate the group’s message.

In a statement, Mayor Jim Strickland said, “We welcome the new efforts of additional citizens in our collective efforts to reduce crime.

“At city government, we began in 2016 to rebuild the police department, provide more of our youth with productive activities when they are out of school, strengthen criminal penalties for violent offenders, providing second chances for those with criminal records to reduce recidivism, and increasing economic opportunities for all Memphians…

“From 2017 through the beginning of 2020, we were successful with all these goals, and crime was decreasing. When the pandemic hit, like most every city in the country, children limited their engagement with productive activities, our police force decreased, and crime increased.

“For six years, we have asked citizens to help the community with mentoring through the Grizzlies Foundation and with tutoring children with Arise2Read and Team Read. In addition, we ask citizens to engage with other entities involved in crime reduction efforts, such as Shelby County government, which has 100% authority over juvenile justice, which fails to punish or intervene with most juvenile offenders, and state government, which has weak state laws, which allow the proliferation of guns in our community while failing to adequately punish the wrongful use of those guns, except for the recently passed Truth in Sentencing Law.”

Brooks said, “… Just like the weekly updates for the COVID-19 pandemic, we would like some kind of meeting or communication each week about gun violence. Make no mistake. We are in a pandemic of gun violence.”

As news spread of Nelson’s killing, online platforms were flooded with expressions of sympathy and tributes to Nelson for her activism in the Whitehaven community.

Nelson’s son asked for help in identifying his mother’s killer and attached the image first released by police as a “person of interest in connection with the shooting.”

Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice Jordan Robinson, whose district includes Whitehaven, called Dr. Nelson’s slaying “a sad day in Whitehaven.”

Jason Sharif with RESPECT The Haven, posted an especially poignant tribute to Nelson on Facebook:

“Just got some devastating news. Whitehaven community leader, Dr. Yvonne Nelson, was murdered Saturday night. We just honored her a few months ago. I’m so glad we gave her flowers while she was still here…the violence has to stop.”

Lucille Mack-Catron also took to Facebook:

“Our very dear friend, our community activist, Dr. Yvonne Nelson, was murdered Saturday on Yale Road. At every city council meeting, I knew she was going to be there, advocating for one issue or another…Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Nelson has been a prominent figure in the Whitehaven community for more than three decades. She was president of the Whitehaven Community Development Corporation (CDC) for 25 years.

Nelson was former editor of the “Whitehaven Appeal,” a neighborhood community publication of The Commercial Appeal.

One of Nelson’s more recent activist campaigns was stopping illegal dumping in the Whitehaven community. She was executive director of “My Zip,” a non-profit entity focused on keeping Whitehaven clean and free from illegal dumping of trash.

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