The Buck Island Road neighborhood watch committee held its first meeting on Saturday. About 30 residents attended, as well as four Bluffton Police officers who answered questions and offered instructions.
The day her neighbor was killed, Tee Frazier saw the man police suspect was involved driving through her neighborhood.
She recognized Jerry Lee Manigault -- a former Bluffton resident and suspect in the May 12 death of 70-year-old Polly Ann Mitchell -- as someone her mother had warned her about 20 years ago.
But she, along with other Buck Island Road residents who also saw Manigault that day, didn't do anything then.
She's acting now.
Frazier was one of about 30 Buck Island Road residents who attended the neighborhood's first watch meeting Saturday evening. She is part of a committee created in response to Mitchell's death.
"We want to make sure nothing like that ever happens here again," Johnnie Brown, a road resident and watch organizer, said. "This community has fallen apart, and (the death of Mitchell) was a terrible wake-up call. We're trying to put the pieces back together so we can report things we see going on."
MAKE THE CALL
Four Bluffton Police Department officers were also there for Saturday's meeting, sharing information and answering questions about how to make the neighborhood safer.
Officer James Carmany asked the community for its help in reporting suspicious activity.
"We often respond to calls and find nothing," Carmany said. " We need your help. Call and leave a number, even if you want to remain anonymous. Keep your eyes on that person. Then we can call you back and you call tell us the person is now behind this home or has gone in this direction."
Officer Donald Chandler said that any person who causes you to look twice is a suspicious person.
He said community members should not hesitate to contact police. And don't assume someone else has already made the call, he said.
Resident Sharon Brown, another organizer of the watch, called for volunteers to be street captains. The captains would check into newcomers to the neighborhood, finding out where they came from. They would also serve as a communication channel for residents.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Frazier wishes she had contacted the authorities that Monday.
"The blacks don't have a good relationship with cops. It's bottom-line how it is -- we don't trust them," Frazier said. "It's historical. It came from my momma who experienced police brutality and racism. ... A lot of that got passed on to us."
The 30-year-old said many younger road residents didn't attend the meeting because they heard the police would be there.
Frazier said she is working to help them understand the officers are there to protect and serve, not harm.
"We have to smooth it out to where they don't see the police as a threat," Frazier said.
The officers said they also want to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.
"We want you to be comfortable with us," Carmany said to the crowd. "We need to get out of the cars more. And if we wave, wave back. Don't be afraid of us. We're here to protect you."
Sharon Brown said the next step is to assign captains, which organizers hope to do at the next meeting. No date has been set.
She also plans to register the neighborhood watch with the state and to send out a newsletter regularly.
Those efforts are small parts of a much bigger one.
"It's time to take this community back," Johnnie Brown said. "Can I get an 'amen'?"
"Amen," the crowd roared back in unison.
Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.