“In my almost 30 years of law enforcement experience, this case is one of the most heartbreaking that I’ve come across," Johnson City Police Chief Billy Church said.
Trigger Warning: The following article contains details of gun violence which some readers may find distressing.
In a shocking and tragic incident that unfolded in Johnson City, Tennessee, the life of 23-year-old Tava Woodard was cut short during her late-night shift as a gas station clerk. On the evening of June 2, less than an hour after sending her mother a lighthearted TikTok video, Woodard was brutally murdered by two men who entered the Roadrunner Market. Although she complied with their demands and handed over money from the register, her assailants showed no mercy, per GoFundMe.
⛔️ A 23-year-old #Tennessee woman was shot dead at a convenience store where she worked the midnight shift, just hours after she had expressed safety concerns.— True Crime with Laura🕵🏼♀️⚖️ (@Lauraonthecase) June 8, 2023
• #TavaWoodard was feeling uneasy about her job at the ‘Roadrunner Market’ and ended up texting one of her… pic.twitter.com/osltJRmSLi
The devastating news spread rapidly throughout the community, prompting an outpouring of support and solidarity according to PEOPLE. Following the horrific incident, strangers rallied together, offering rewards and providing crucial tips to law enforcement agencies. Finally, on Tuesday, June 6, a breakthrough occurred as a father and son were arrested and charged with Woodard's murder.
Woodard's shift had already begun on an unsettling note, with an earlier incident of shoplifting. Distressed by the lack of safety and eager to explore new job opportunities, she confided in friends and coworkers, expressing her concerns. Startlingly, the panic button beneath the store counter, intended to summon help during emergencies, was non-functional and disconnected—a detail that further compounded Woodard's vulnerability.
Melissa Jones, mother of the victim said, “A customer came in yelling and screaming and stealing some chips. She texted that she didn’t feel safe there anymore. From what I’m hearing none of them were feeling very safe — this is all over the place so I’ll go ahead and say it. All of her coworkers have stated that the 'panic button' under the counter wasn’t working — and wasn’t even hooked up.”
Her mother, Melissa Jones, expressed her daughter's plight, highlighting the absence of available options to safeguard herself. “She had no chance of contacting anybody to help her,” her mother tells PEOPLE. “What’s she going to do? Pick up her phone and make a phone call? And there’s no 'panic button' hooked up. What’s she supposed to do all by herself? I won’t get into specifics, but the police have told me that she was very calm, very composed and that they were amazed at hearing how old she was and how well she maintained her composure and calmness.”
Tenn. Store Clerk Texted Friends She Didn't Feel Safe at Job. Within an Hour, She Was Fatally Shot.— bennydiego🏳️🌈 (@bennydiego) June 8, 2023
Tava Woodard's mother says the "panic button" behind the counter at the Roadrunner Market was broken.
It’s the guns. https://t.co/ku6ZELrWaZ
Nevertheless, law enforcement officials commended Woodard's composure and calmness in the face of danger. Johnson City Police Chief Billy Church told WJHL, “In my almost 30 years of law enforcement experience, this case is one of the most heartbreaking that I’ve come across." Woodard recently sent her sister a meme that said, “If I die, don’t you dare release a bunch of balloons. I want you to plant flowers for me, so that I can continue to grow.” Now, the family is asking people to plant flowers "so that we can keep her alive and keep her with us,” her mother says.
Mark Anthony Sexton Jr. and his son, Mark Anthony Sexton III, are in a Washington County, Tennessee, courtroom Wednesday afternoon. They are charged with the murder of 23-year-old Tava Woodard. (WCYB photo)https://t.co/cvEUGCyd0j pic.twitter.com/D7EDvVAQi2— News 5 WCYB (@news5wcyb) June 7, 2023
“It’s overwhelming and heartwarming the support and love and prayers that we have received from so many people. I want to meet and hug every single person that has thought about her and done something nice for her family — even if it’s a message they’ve sent me. ... I want to see all of these people that loved my daughter," the mother said.
Meanwhile, in custody, Mark Anthony Sexton, Jr., aged 41, faces charges of first-degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, and driving an unregistered vehicle. His 18-year-old son, Mark Anthony Sexton III, faces charges of first-degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, possible firearm commission of a dangerous felony, and tampering with evidence.
Cover Image Source: GoFundMe