On December 31, 2022, in La Plata, officers from the La Plata Police Department responded to a call from the area around Crain Highway and Port Tobacco Road. The call reported a shooting incident near the Deluxe Inn at around 4:13 p.m.
When the officers arrived, they located the victim near the inn. The victim was identified as 30-year-old Donnell Henry Hawkins. He sustained multiple gunshot injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. The officers also recovered a 9 mm handgun at the scene.
Several 911 callers reported three black males running away from the area. According to the reports, there were at least three people who witnessed the murder. They described the suspect as a black male in an all-black outfit. He was last seen walking towards Charles Street.
The Charles County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) later announced on Twitter that the officials have closed the area surrounding the Crain Highway due to the incident.
“Port Tobacco Rd is closed from Crain Hwy to Quailwood Pkwy, traffic detour is down Quailwood Pkwy. Police activity will be for an extended period, avoid the area,” CCSO tweeted.
With the descriptions from the witnesses, the officers were able to quickly locate and apprehend the suspect, who was identified as 26-year-old Cordell Earl Spicer. He was arrested not too far from the crime scene and charged with first-degree murder.
Reports stated that Spicer is currently being held without bond at the Charles County Detention Center. Detective R. Johnson is investigating the case.
According to police reports, the victim and suspect knew each other. However, the detectives have not yet determined Spicer’s motive.
Another notable case
The New Year Eve’s shooting was the second notable case happening around La Plata towards the end of 2022.
On December 3, 2022, 34-year-old Luis Valenzuela was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Raeanna “Nikki” Burch-Woodhull, a 28-year-old pregnant woman who was reported missing and found dead south of Durango, Colorado. Valenzuela was taken to the La Plata County jail after his arrest.
The body of Burch-Woodhull, an indigenous woman affiliated with the Omaha tribe and in her second trimester of pregnancy, was found in the area of Colorado State Highway 550 and County Road 310, south of Durango.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation had previously issued an Endangered Missing Alert for Burch-Woodhull, stating that she was last seen on November 27 at around 2 a.m. in Ignacio.
Luis Raul Valenzuela, 34, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in connection with Burch-Woodhull’s death. He was recently married to Burch-Woodhull prior to the incident, according to her family who spoke to CBS Colorado.
“He was a very controlling and abusive partner in her life,” said Felicia Munguia, Burch-Woodhull’s sister.
“None of us could even believe that it would come to this extent, although when you’re dealing with a family member that’s in an abusive relationship, we were very limited to be able to help her.”
Advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous people in Colorado have pointed out that Native women in the state often face violent circumstances, and that this is a significant crisis that affects not just the Native community but society as a whole.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado is a group of grassroots advocates who have been working on the ground in Ignacio to help Burch-Woodhull’s family and assist with the investigation.
The taskforce also played a role in the creation of a standalone office, the Office of Liaison for Missing or Murdered Indigenous Relatives, to focus on missing and murdered Indigenous people in the state. Arron Julian, the director of this office, is also involved in the investigation.