Less than two years after a gunman opened fire in a College Hill Courts apartment, paralyzing a 1-year-old girl from the chest down, her mother was found shot to death Wednesday morning.
Bianca Horton, 26, was found dead on the side of the road in the 2100 block of Elder Street on the side of Missionary shortly after 9 a.m. with multiple bullet casings on the ground beside her. The mother of four had been a witness in the case against the man accused of shooting her daughter.
Standing down the street from where members of the FBI and local investigators were examining the scene, Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher said the death was likely gang-related and authorities are concerned it may be related to the previous shooting that injured her daughter.
On Jan. 7, 2015, police rushed to Horton's apartment moments after multiple shots were fired there, only to find they were running onto the gruesome scene of a quadruple shooting, including a homicide.
Talitha Bowman, 20, was dead after being shot through the heart, an 18-year-old man was shot in the chest and critically wounded, and Horton had sustained a gunshot wound to the arm.
Horton's daughter, Zoey Duncan, was bleeding through a white towel that had been wrapped around her. The officers didn't wait for an ambulance, instead choosing to rush off with the infant in a patrol car. She underwent emergency surgery at Erlanger and survived, but was paralyzed by the injury.
A year later, Zoey and her mother were learning to cope with the challenges presented by her disability. Zoey was using a pink, toddler-sized wheelchair to zip around, and an array of medical machines set up in her room helped her cough and clear mucus out of her lungs, one of which had collapsed from the bullet.
Kiara Jones, a makeup artist in Chattanooga, said she went to Brainerd High School with Horton and reconnected with her after the shooting.
"I was very supportive with her when that happened 'cause I'm a mother myself," she said. "And she always supported me with my makeup business."
"She was a good person with a very good heart."
The suspect in the quadruple shooting, Cortez Sims, a validated gang member, was 17 at the time and initially evaded police. After a manhunt, Sims was arrested a few days later in Knoxville after being put on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Top 10 Most Wanted list.
In March of that year, Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw said Sims would be tried as an adult in Hamilton County Criminal Court and, a year later, attorneys agreed to a trial date of Sept. 27, 2016, in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom.
Before her death, Horton had been a witness in Sims' case, according to Melydia Clewell, a spokeswoman for District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's office. Neither Clewell nor the prosecutor, Executive Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope, could comment Wednesday on what Horton's role might have been in the case moving forward.
News of Horton's death was distressing to many residents of the city, including several members of the police department. Fletcher said she had become well-known to some of his officers on her road to recovery with Zoey.
"This one is very painful for the police department," he said.
Mayor Andy Berke also released a statement, saying, "Today I received devastating news that Bianca Horton was found dead. This loss of life is a loss to our entire community. Ms. Horton has been through so much. Her family and her daughter deserve our support and justice."
Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call police at 423-698-2525.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731.
The headline has been changed to its current version from the previous headline: Authorities believe Bianca Horton may have been killed for testifying in daughter's shooting. Authorities have not officially said the shooting was related to Horton's testimony.