Viral Posts about Tamla Horsford in June 2020
An appended image of eight women — seven white and one black — was captioned “This picture literally gives me the chills.” In a text post, Steele wrote:
Never forget how they all helped kill the only black woman at this sleep over!!! #TamlaHorsford
“On November 4th 2018, 40 year old Tamla Horsford attended an adult sleepover with 7 white women who were supposedly her friends. The “all women” sleepover was eventually crashed by 3 white men. At 7:30 am the next morning, Tamla’s badly bruised and beaten body was found in the yard by the homeowner’s aunt. Police were eventually called at 9:30am. Out of the 10 people who attended the party, no one could offer the police any answers as to how Tamla passed away. A murder investigation was never conducted, the news refused to cover the story AND her family never received Tamla’s autopsy report. The families involved have tight political ties and lots of money. Tamla’s family believe they are covering up the murder. The case was eventually closed in 2019. SAY HER NAME- Tamla Horsford. May we never forget.
In that context, the image of Horsford in what the post claimed were her final hours was indeed chilling. But many commenters responded that they’d never heard Horsford’s name, nor were they aware of the circumstances of her death.
Another post about the image was shared to Twitter on June 5 2020, to subsequent massive engagement:
In a caption similar to the one on Facebook, @brujeriagirl wrote:
#NeverForget —> #TamlaHorsford, 40, a mother of five children, went to an all-adult sleepover to watch the game and party. She was joined by other “football moms” at the sleepover, which included seven White women and three men at a home in Forsyth County, Georgia. The next morning, Horsford was found dead in the backyard and now her case is receiving new scrutiny after Black Twitter spawned #TamlaHorsford and is asking federal law enforcement officials to get involved.
Horsford was found face down in the backyard by the homeowner’s aunt at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2018, but police were not called to the scene until 9:30 a.m. It was initially reported that Horsford suffered injuries to her head and face.
The case becomes even stranger when another person at the party, Jose Barrera, a former probation officer for Forsyth County Court, lost his job because of improper use of the county database.
Barrera is the boyfriend of the woman who owned the house where Horsford’s body was found and is also considered a witness in the investigation into Horsford’s death.
The Death of Tamla Horsford
On November 4 2018, Tamla Horsford was found dead in the yard at the house where the party she attended was hosted. As interest in the case increased in February 2020, Horsford’s friends and loved ones pleaded with the public for further investigation into the circumstances of her death:
The coroner’s death certificate listed Horsford’s death as an accident. The report said that a fall from a deck caused multiple blunt force injuries and “acute ethanol intoxication” was a contributing factor.
But Michelle Graves says she believes something else happened to her best friend and the family hired another medical examiner who found extensive injuries all over her body.
“It’s impossible to get the injuries that she had from one fall,” she said.
Thousands on social media have called for further investigation into Horsford’s death with hashtags #TamlaHorsford and #JusticeForTamlaHorsford.
“We’re glad we’re not the only ones who feel there’s something awry with the story and with how she lost her life,” Graves told Petchenik.
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said they just got back the toxicology reports this week [of February 20 2020] and plan to have answers soon.
That article mentioned in passing that Forsyth County employee Jose Barrera had at that point recently been fired for allegedly improperly accessing documents related to the investigation into Horsford’s death. WSB-TV also reported that the party was held “at Barrera’s girlfriend house,” that “Barrera found Horsford lying face down in the backyard unresponsive, according to police reports,” and that Barrera said in a 911 call on the morning Horsford’s body was found:
“I’m noticing a small cut on her right wrist. She’s not breathing whatsoever. I don’t know if this cut was self-inflicted.”
On February 20 2020, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office in Forsyth County, Georgia issued a press release regarding the findings of the medical examiner in an investigation into Horsford’s death, and indicated that the office had closed the investigation:
February 20, 2019 On November 4th, 2018, at 8:59 AM, the Forsyth County 911 Center received a call of an unresponsive person in the 4000 block of Woodlet Ct in Cumming, Georgia. First responders were dispatched and the Sheriff’s Deputies arrived at 9:07 AM. Deputies discovered the clothed body of a deceased female lying in the backyard of the residence. The deceased female was later identified as 40-year-old Tamala Horsford of Cumming Georgia. Mrs. Horsford had been attending an overnight party at the residence.
While the injuries sustained by Mrs. Horsford appeared to likely be received in a fall, Detectives awaited results from both the toxicology and the Medical Examiner reports to verify their findings. On February 6th, 2019, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office received the final Medical Examiner’s report regarding Mrs. Horsford. The State of Georgia Medical Examiner has ruled the death accidental and consistent with a fall. Detectives have spent the following weeks reviewing the medical findings with those found at the scene by the Major Crimes Unit and the Crime Scene Investigation Unit. No evidence or injury patterns indicative of an assault or foul play were noted by Forsyth County Sheriff’s Detectives or in the Forsyth County Coroner’s Office or GBI Medical Examiner’s reports. During the course of this investigation, Detectives have conducted approximately 30 interviews, and spent well over 300-man hours conducting this investigation. With a finding of an accidental death resulting from a fall as recorded by the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office, along with the extensive findings from the investigation of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s office has closed this death investigation.
Nearly all versions of the heavily shared posts about Horsford’s death were accompanied by the “adult sleepover party” image seen above. That photograph was part of the initial reporting by Atlanta-area outlet WGCL-TV on February 20 2019:
On November 3, 2018 the 40-year-old mother of five was found dead in the backyard of a friend’s house. According to investigators, [Tamla] Horsford and other female friends were attending an adult slumber party.
Jeanne Meyers, who resides at the residence, told police that Horsford was seen drinking from a blue bottle of tequila and smoking marijuana the previous night. She seemed in good spirits.
As the party wound down around 1:30 a.m. Meyers says her friend opted to stay out on the deck to finish a cigarette. It was the last time she was seen alive. The next morning around 7:30 a.m. Horsford’s body was found.
Autopsy results show Horsford sustained a laceration and fracture to her right wrist. Her cause of death is listed as “multiple blunt force injuries with other contributing factors being acute ethanol intoxication.”
It was unclear how the photograph came to be in public circulation, but it appeared to be accurately described — it showed Horsford, a black woman, sitting amidst seven white women hours before she died under contested circumstances. Some iterations are credited to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, suggesting they released the image at some point after Horsford’s death.
In a February 22 2019 post by Forsyth County News, Horsford’s husband Leander Horsford and other relatives expressed skepticism around the investigation into her death. Her husband said that the stories from others present at the party did not seem to add up:
“I want the truth of what’s going on, because I mean, the stories I’ve heard so far, none of them make sense,” said Horsford’s husband, Leander Horsford. “And if they don’t make sense, usually there’s a reason they don’t make sense.”
During their interview, Horsford and Terry Blanco, sister-in-law to Tamla Horsford, asked Christian why Horsford’s shoes and cigarette butts weren’t collected and tested, asserting that evidence could have been overlooked.
“Even when she’s had the most she could have, she’s never ever fallen down,” Blanco stated. “We all know Tami and none of this makes sense.”
Horsford and Blanco also told detectives that the family has ordered a second autopsy done privately out of state, because they, “don’t trust” the system in Forsyth County.
“In my personal opinion I think that the investigation has been mishandled,” Horsford said. “That’s just my personal opinion because there’s a lot of things that were left back, that should not have been left back.”
Developments in June 2020
On June 12 2020, after several viral social media posts appeared, WSB-TV reporter Mike Petchenik tweeted a letter from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) requesting that a new investigation be opened into Horsford’s death:
Six days earlier, Petchenik tweeted an earlier statement from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s office about their initial investigation in late 2018 and early 2019:
On June 10 2020, Petchenik reported that a petition calling for the case to be reopened had more than 50,000 signatures. A June 5 2020 letter from lawyer Ralph Fernandez to Leander Horsford about his review of the evidence was also shared by Petchenik on Twitter:
That letter read in part:
The review reflects that a homicide is a strong possibility. Witness statements are in conflict. A potential subject handled the body as well as the evidence prior to the law enforcement arrival. Evidence was disposed of and no inquiry followed.The scene was not preserved. Evidence was improperly handled. The investigation was compromised by unauthorized access and disclosure to potential targets and witnesses. A remarkable fact is that there were no photographs taken during the autopsy of Tamla’s body. This had to have been done at someone’s directive because such a practice is unheard of.
Let us address one issue as a sample, in reverse order, from the above. It appears Tamla was involved in a struggle. There were abrasions consistent with that scenario. There were parallel scratches to one arm. Since they were fresh, photos would not have proven recent use of defensive force. But having no photos inures to our detriment. There was one X-Ray, yet the injury noted as the cause of death appears nowhere. Getting the records has been another monumental task to say the least. I could go on, and will, in a few days. Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office employees have been the subject of much criticism. The case agent was a close friend of the subject, who turned out to be the leak of the ongoing investigation. The town of Cumming has a history which raises eyebrows. After conducting my extensive review I have come to the conclusion that the truth never had a chance here.
A June 8 2020 tweet from Petchenik featured a Georgia Bureau of Investigation statement suggesting that photographs had been taken during Horsford’s autopsy. It is not clear which assertion is correct, or why Fernandez might have been unable to access the photographs:
A separate June 12 2020 report by WSB-TV mentioned that “Petchenik reached out to the attorney representing the party-goers in a civil defamation case against one of Horsford’s best friend to see if he had any comment but has not heard back.” No additional information about the civil defamation case or parties involved appeared in that report.
However, a statement attributed to lawyers for the other people at the party appeared to have been issued on February 20 2019 (based on its repeated mention of the passage of “109 days” between the document and Horsford’s death) accused “certain very vocal individuals” of trying to turn a “tragic death” into something else:
109 days of waiting for the certain result that was to come yesterday in the press conference by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department. 109 days of our clients being unable to properly grieve the death of their friend, because of what certain very vocal individuals called a “murder” from the start. As stated previously, each person who was present on November 4, 2018, has cooperated completely with law enforcement officers in an attempt to give family and friends answers in regard to the tragic death of Tamla Horsford.
As reported by the Sheriff [in February 2019] in his press conference, each of these three independent bodies found absolutely and unequivocally that there was no foul play and that there was no evidence of any assault. Our clients knew this to be fact because there was NEVER any wrongdoing by them that evening. Contrary to stories being put out there by a certain very vocal individual, this was not a racially motivated murder. This was not murder. This was not anything other than a tragic accident. Mrs. Horsford fell 18 feet from the top of the rail on the back deck to the ground.
On the morning of November 4 2018, Tamla Horsford was found dead in a backyard after attending an “adult sleepover” with seven white women. From the outset, Horsford’s family were concerned her death was improperly investigated. Around February 20 2019, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office officially closed the investigation into her death, but calls to reopen it crested during widespread protests in June 2020. Those calls were amplified by celebrities, and in early June 2020, the Forsyth Country Sheriff’s Office asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen the case and reexamine Horsford’s death.