On May 20, 2020, Micheal Jones clocked out after his shift at Steel Dynamics west of Columbus and drove to Bessemer, Alabama, to pick up an iPhone 11 he agreed to buy through the Letgo app. He never made it back home.
Instead, Bessemer police found Jones’ body in an abandoned house. He had been shot. In April, a juvenile was charged with murder in his death.
“It’s not the same anymore in our home,” Bethie Jones, Micheal’s wife of 19 years, said Thursday. “It won’t ever be the same.”
As Bethie spoke, she and several of her family members stood near freshly painted green lines that marked two special parking spaces in front of Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies had just unveiled a metal sign marking the spots that read, “Internet Purchase Exchange Location.” Printed in smaller letters at the bottom was, “In Memory of Micheal Jones.”
The ceremony officially opened the space, which is under constant surveillance, for people to meet and safely complete transactions arranged via the internet, apps or social media.
Sheriff Eddie Hawkins saw a need for establishing a safe transaction space in the community after Micheal Jones’ murder, then tasked Deputy Rhonda Sanders with helping organize the effort.
“These types of transactions are happening more and more every day,” said Dick Spann, LCSO patrol captain. “This was an opportunity to use our own facility to provide (for the need). … I hope more communities will consider doing something like this.”
During the ceremony, both Spann and Sanders encouraged the public to use and get the word out about the exchange location.
“Just tell the person, ‘Meet me here,’” Sanders said. “… If they don’t want to meet here, and they want to meet somewhere strange instead, don’t do the deal.”
Sanders said she is proud LCSO honored Micheal’s memory with the space.
“I did not know Micheal, but from what I have learned about him, he was such a loving and giving person,” Sanders said. “We wanted to do what we could for his family.”
Columbus Mayor Keith Gaskin also spoke at the ceremony, offering regrets for Hawkins, who could not attend due to illness.
“This is a testament to the kindness of our community to create this space in hopes that it will bring some comfort to you,” he told Jones’ family members attending.
Bethie Jones told The Dispatch she is thankful, not only for the gesture but what it could mean for someone else’s family down the line.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I hope no one else has to go through what we’re going through because it hurts. Words cannot explain how much it hurts.”
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.