Sandy Smith has waited 2,303 days for justice.
Her son, 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found dead in the middle of a rural Hampton County, South Carolina road on July 8, 2015. More than 6 years later, Sandy Smith is still waiting for answers to very basic questions surrounding Stephen’s death.
Who killed Stephen?
How did he die?
Did he suffer?
Sandy Smith got a small taste of justice on June 22, 2021, when agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) knocked on her door and told her the words she’d been waiting years to hear — SLED officials were opening an investigation into her son’s unsolved death.
They opened this investigation based on information gathered during the course of the double homicide investigation of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, according to SLED officials.
This connection made by law enforcement launched Stephen’s case — which few people outside of Hampton, South Carolina had heard of before — into the international spotlight.
“At least, now, everybody knows it was a murder and not a hit and run and I can move forward knowing that,” Sandy told FITSNews.
Stephen’s story has captivated thousands in South Carolina and beyond — including Susanne Andrews, who said she felt compelled to do something for the Smith family.
“As a mother, it tore my heart into a million pieces seeing that and knowing that in the 6 years since Stephen had passed that no one had done anything to help her with a headstone,” Andrews said. “Honestly, all I know is that there was something that much larger than I know how to explain that lead me to do something to help.”
So she created the #StandingForStephen fundraiser on behalf of the Capital Club in Columbia, South Carolina and the local LGBTQ community. On Saturday, October 30 the Capital Club — the “longest continuous operating gay bar in the Southeast” — will host a fundraiser for Stephen’s family.
Andrews said she wanted to do anything she could “to give back to this mother, who has been waiting for more than 6 long years for answers to her son’s death.”
“For over 40 years The Capital Club has helped the LGBTQ community,” she said. “We feel that it is now our turn to help with Stephen Smith’s cause.”
Proceeds will go to Sandy Smith’s legal expenses and a scholarship fund in Stephen’s name. The group has already raised enough money to buy Stephen a headstone.
“I would just love to have a scholarship in Stephen’s name,” Sandy said. “And Stephen would have loved that, too.”
Stephen was always studious and had plans on becoming a nurse before he could afford medical school. In fact, he was in class at Orangeburg Technical College on the night before he died on July 8, 2015.
Sandy is looking forward to Saturday — a day where she can celebrate and honor the life of her son, who was one of a few openly gay young men in the small town of Hampton, South Carolina. After Stephen’s case got pushed to the side for so many years, authorities made her feel like her son’s life didn’t matter.
Now, Andrews along with others behind the #StandingForStephen movement are making sure Stephen’s memory will be honored and his death is not forgotten.
“Stephen had an old saying anytime anyone would do something nice for him he’d be like, “you’d do that for me?'” Sandy said. “He would be so proud.’
For years, troopers at the South Carolina Highway Patrol — the lead investigating agency on Stephen’s case before SLED took over — told Sandy that her son was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
But Sandy never bought the story investigators told her.
“A mother knows their child and I knew for certain that Stephen wouldn’t be in that road,” Sandy Smith said.
She always believed her son was murdered. And for years, she told anyone who would listen.
Despite her best efforts, Stephen’s case went cold in 2016 and the media did very little to give his story attention. Before his case was connected to the Murdaugh Murders investigation, only a handful of media reports could be found about Stephen’s death.
For years, Sandy prayed and prayed that things would change. She’d close her eyes and imagine a day when police would show up at the door and tell her that they’d arrested the person responsible for her son’s death.
While that day still hasn’t come for Sandy, June 22 was a monumental step in her fight to get justice for Stephen.
Soon after that news broke, Sandy Smith was getting phone calls from reporters across the country. Finally, the world was paying attention to her son’s case.
“It’s been wonderful now that Stephen’s name is out there, there are so many people who know his story,” Sandy said.
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However, for Sandy, and so many other victims who are unwillingly tethered to the Murdaugh Murders Saga — the last few months have been unpredictable, stressful and exhausting. As the rest of the world watches the updates for entertainment, Sandy watches with mixed emotions. Some days, she’s hopeful. Other days, she’s frustrated.
She said the false rumors connected to Stephen’s case have been especially hurtful and draining.
“I’ve cried myself to sleep after some of these rumors,” Sandy Smith said. “The rumors do nothing but hold the investigation up.”
Sandy is still clinging to hope that SLED agents will give her answers soon. She also takes comfort in the fact she has one of the most powerful attorneys in the state — Andy Savage — now representing her.
“I know they have a job to do,” Sandy said about SLED. “But when you don’t get updates, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s like ‘ok, is this like the last time? Are they really working it or are they not?'”
SLED officials have not provided the public any updates in Stephen’s case since they opened their investigation in June.
“SLED has made progress in the death investigation of Stephen Smith,” Tommy Crosby, SLED spokesperson, told FITSNews this month. “However this investigation remains active and ongoing.”
To donate to the #StandingForStephen GoFundme, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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