CARTERET COUNTY — On Aug. 3, a home health care aide's knock on the door of 120 Clem Fulcher Court in Atlantic went unanswered.All entrances to the residence were locked when law enforcement arrived. After deputies forced their way inside, evidence of a violent fight was quickly discovered.
Phillip Raymond Fulcher, 59, and his brother William David Fulcher, 57, were pronounced dead at the scene.
While a cause of death has yet to be provided, an autopsy performed at Vidant Medical Center on Aug. 9 confirmed both deaths as homicide.
Forensic analysts believe it is possible the killer may have been injured with a laceration, though no further details have been given as to not jeopardize the investigation.
A month later, county officials say there has been nothing new to report regarding the murders.
While the search for justice continues, members of the remote community say they are still dealing with the haunting impacts of the deaths.
One thing was quite apparent after seeking comments from Atlantic and Sea Level residents – “Fear.”
Largely stemming from that feeling, no one would go on the record with any comments while others wouldn’t comment at all, although their concern was apparent.
“It’s frightening, very scary,” one Atlantic resident said.
Two residents, one male and the other female, both said they live alone.
“I live alone, and I make sure and lock my doors at night,” the female resident related. The male resident stayed mum.
Another thing is also quite apparent. Atlantic is not only known for its commercial fishing heritage but also for hunting and camouflage gear when the seasons kick in, and the consensus of opinion is that most residents are armed behind closed doors.
“Oh, I’ve got my guns ready, if need be,” one female resident said in case her husband wasn’t home. “And if someone was going to try and break in, I would stand behind the door and cock my shotgun as loud as I could, make a lot of noise. Hopefully that would scare them away.”
Another thing that several residents noted was lack of information, both from the news media and law enforcement. In defense of both, the news media can only report what’s made public, and law enforcement officials cannot effectively do their job if they’re broadcasting every detail of a criminal investigation.
A third consensus of opinion was offered as well, albeit sadly, in regard to the brothers who were murdered.
“They never bothered anybody, never hurt anybody, was as nice as they could be. They just stayed to themselves.”
As the sheriff's office continues their investigation of the Fulchers' double homicide, 40 miles away in Atlantic Beach, police are engaged in their own investigation concerning the death of Randal Miller.
According to previous reports, Miller, 65, of Apex was on vacation and preparing for a trip to target redfish on Aug. 29 in the 300 block of West Atlantic Blvd.
As he was loading his boat with gear around 5:45 a.m., an altercation between Miller and at least three men occurred.
In an interview with other news outlets, McAlpin described their fishing trip as the highlight of Miller's year.
“When he's done catching that fish, he's the happiest he ever is,” McAlpin said. “He was a fabulous friend. Everybody he knew was his best friend and loved him to death.”
Miller's wife of 43 years, Sue Miller, also briefly spoke on the tragic death, “He was my rock, he was my protector, he was the love of my life. I'm really going to miss him.”
Based on video and physical evidence collected from the scene, it is believed the suspects were breaking into vehicles before they encountered Miller.
Initially, police released photographs taken from nearby camera footage detailing the suspects and their vehicles.
The men are described as black males of medium height and build. At the time of incident, they were wearing dark pants and gray to dark-colored hooded sweatshirts with face coverings such as bandannas or COVID-19 face masks.
After working with the help of FBI and other state entities such as the SBI, officials say they have narrowed down the make of the suspects' vehicle to a silver, four-door car. The vehicle's make and model was not provided.
"We're attempting to develop more leads," said Atlantic Beach Police Chief Jeff Harvey. "From there, just continuing every day to go back, retrace our tracks and develop more leads that we can start to follow."
In a recent press release, police said they have received "significant information that is proving useful to the investigation" after asking the community for help through various media outlets.
Miller's passing marks Atlantic Beach's first homicide since 2009 when Jason E. Quillen, 21, of Swansboro died after suffering a head injury while allegedly fighting with Joseph S. Jimenez, 38, of Newport.
The recent murder is also only the third recorded in Atlantic Beach's history since the town began tracking such information, according to police.
For local resident Steven W., the feeling of dread is still lingering more than a week later.
Steven, who did not want to give his last name to maintain anonymity, explained he was drinking at a nearby tap room a few hours before the stabbing.
“I walked home that night, right by where it happened,” he said. “It's crazy. That could have been me, you know? I think about it all the time.”
Atlantic Beach resident Jessica, who also declined to give her full name, said she was still in disbelief.
“We get tourists here in the summer, but it's never been a problem other than backing up traffic,” Jessica said. “I don't think those guys were out that night looking to kill someone. They were just breaking into cars. It definitely sucks, though.”
While the three murders are historically rare occurrences in Carteret County, they fall in line with macro crime trends observed in the state through recent years.
According to the most recent annual report by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, data shows from 2020 to 2021, there was an 18% increase in murders and a 7.2% increase of rape statewide.
Since 2012, the entirety of North Carolina has seen a 95% increase in murders, according to the bureau.
In Carteret County, the overall index crime rate slightly fell in 2021. Violent crimes rose by 5%, while property crime actually decreased by more than 20%.
Exact reasoning for the staggering increase of homicides in the past few years is not certain, though crime experts believe it is a combination of a few different aspects.
According to FBI analyst Jeff Asher, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns greatly disrupted the usual day-to-day life of citizens and made it much harder for social service operations to quell violence before it starts.
A rising sense of discord between the public and law enforcement also played a factor, along with poor economic conditions in an increasingly polarized political environment, Asher related.
He also pointed out an overall nationwide increase in drug addiction, overdoses, mental health problems and car collisions.
As the communities of Carteret County continue to grieve the loss of Miller and the Fulcher brothers, many locals continue to remain hopeful of better days to come.
“We are all in this together,” said Morehead City resident Brooke Phillips. “It's tough right now and people are scared, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. If we are not there for each other, who will be?”