HIGH POINT — Every day since last Nov. 8, Vivian Wright has relived the events surrounding the death of Fred Cox Jr., the Black teenager she says saved her life — and sacrificed his own — during a chaotic exchange of gunfire at a funeral.
Wednesday afternoon, during a news conference outside the Guilford County Courthouse, the High Point woman publicly shared her account of those events for the first time, explaining Cox saved not only her life, but the life of her then-12-year-old son, Tavaris Johnson Jr.
“We are alive and here today because of the heroic deed of Fred Cox Jr.,” Wright told a crowd of about 50 people who had gathered at the courthouse to demand justice for Cox’s death. “I want you to remember these three points: Fred died a hero, Fred was unarmed, and Fred was the real citizen on patrol that day, without a weapon or a uniform.”
Cox, 18, was shot to death by an undercover Davidson County deputy at a memorial service being held that afternoon at Living Water Baptist Church on Brentwood Street. According to Wright, Cox was helping her and Tavaris get into the church safely — after gunfire from two passing vehicles had rained down in the vicinity of the mourners — when the deputy shot him.
The deputy has not been publicly identified nor charged in Cox’s death, but the State Bureau of Investigation’s probe of the incident is continuing.
With her son at her side Wednesday, Wright told the crowd she was the last person to see Cox alive and speak with him. She and Tavaris were also right beside Cox when he was “shot down like an animal,” she said.
According to Wright, she chatted briefly with Cox as he sat in his car following the memorial service. As Cox prepared to leave, his passenger door — where Wright was standing — was ajar, so he asked her to close it for him.
“How could it be that I closed Fred’s door, and seconds later he got out of the car and opened the church door for me and my son when the gunfire ensued?” Wright said. “He could’ve easily put his car in drive to get away from the gunfire when it began, but he did not. He stayed. He got out of his car and made sure that my son and I were safe.”
Wright adamantly disputed the narrative reportedly given by the deputy that he had seen Cox holding a gun.
“Fred was unarmed,” she said. “I never saw Fred with a gun. The only gun I saw that day was the gun of (the detective).”
According to Wright, Cox opened the church door with one hand and shielded his face for protection with the other. It was a matter of seconds later that he was shot, she said.
“I saw Fred as he stumbled and went down on the church floor,” Wright said. “My son and I continued to move quickly to go into the fellowship hall, and (the detective) kept shooting.”
That evening, when Cox’s body was moved from the church, there was no gun discovered on or even near him, Wright added.
Also on hand at the news conference, in addition to Cox’s family, were nationally acclaimed civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Cox family, and the Rev. Dr. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP.
Spearman testified to Cox’s strong character, reiterating that he had died a hero.
“Yet the powers that be would have us think that Fred was a thug,” Spearman said. “He was not a thug. He was a son of a powerful mother who was doing the thing that she had taught him to do, to help someone else along their way. And the one who took his life is actually the thug.”
Crump, who also spoke at a protest march for Cox on Jan. 22, said it’s important for the local Black community to demand justice for Cox’s death.
“There comes a time when one must take a position because their conscience tells them it is the right thing to do,” he shouted. “It’s the right thing to do to stand up for Fred. It’s the right thing to do to speak up for Fred. It’s the right thing to do to fight for Fred.”
Wednesday’s news conference doubled as a birthday party for Tavaris, who turned 13 last week and received several presents following the speeches. The event concluded with a balloon release in honor of Tavaris’ birthday and in memory of Cox.
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