Ariel Anderson: “Nic Coker ‘died saving my child and trying to protect her.’”
WAGARVILLE, Alabama––What in Sam Hill?
Three shotgun blasts and a pistol shot fired from the wooded vicinity of Sam Hill and Sullivan Roads, about halfway between Wagarville and Saint Stephens, Alabama, 55 miles north of Mobile, on December 19, 2020 brought the deaths of Kelvin James Coker, 60, and Kelvin Nicholas Coker, 32, his son.
Kelvin James Coker was usually called James, not by his first name. The first name Kelvin had been shared among family members for more than 100 years, one of whom was in the early 20th century a well-known local dentist.
Kelvin Nicholas Coker was known as Nic.
The Cokers were respectively the 42nd and 43rd U.S. and Canadian victims of pit bull-related homicide in 2020, the sixth and seventh victims who were not actually killed by the pit bulls, and the fifth and sixth victims who were killed in retaliatory violence by pit bull owners.
In the Coker case, the killers were each other.
Richard Stringer, Washington County Sheriff, told media that Nic Coker “began shooting at four of the family’s dogs around 6 p.m. when they started to play aggressively with his girlfriend’s child.”
Barrel-racing & Bassett Creek
The girlfriend, Ariel Anderson, 25, seven years younger, grew up on Sullivan Road, about a mile through trees and fields from the Cokers, on Sam Hill Road, but three and a half miles away by car.
A nearby road marker identifies Bassett Creek, where early settler Thomas Bassett was allegedly murdered by Choctaws in 1780, eight years after claiming 750 acres of then-Choctaw land as a plantation to be worked by slave labor.
The Anderson family kept horses. Ariel Anderson, at age 13 in 2008, was a nationally recognized barrel racer.
Later, after graduating from nearby Leroy High School, Ariel Anderson studied liberal arts at Coastal Alabama Community College in Monroeville and served in the National Guard.
“Nic had a checkered past”
Despite the longtime proximity of the Coker and Anderson families, the relationship between Nic Coker and Ariel Anderson had only recently begun.
Both had children from previous relationships.
“Ariel says Nic and his father didn’t have a good relationship, and Nic had a checkered past, but had gotten his act straight and was a loving father,” reported Gabby Easterwood of WKRG television news in Mobile.
“Ariel went on to say Nic,” a pipe fitter, had turned his life around from his checkered past and was a loving father and provider.
Four pit bulls menaced daughter
“According to Ariel Anderson,” Easterwood continued, “it all started when her daughter was almost attacked by some of the family dogs outside their home.”
The daughter was apparently jumped on and knocked down by the pit bulls.
Circumstantial evidence suggests the pit bulls were a trio from among a litter of four, named Killer, Blade, Hugo, and Nubbin, born in late February or early March 2020, kept by Kelvin James Coker, and an older pit bull, believed to be about five years old, belonging to Nic.
Ariel Anderson “told Nic of the near attack,” Easterwood recounted, “and he decided to shoot the dogs to save the child from future potential harm.”
“It all started with a dog being shot,” Sheriff Stringer agreed.
Nic Coker shot his own pit bull & one of his father’s
Nic Coker shot two pit bulls, “his own and one of his father’s,” Washington County Sheriff’s Office chief investigator Blake Richardson told Marella Porter of WALA-TV, the Fox affiliate in Mobile.
“His brother,” Clint Coker, “said ‘Dad is going to be upset that you killed his dog.’ Nicholas allegedly pointed the shotgun at his brother, and using choice language, more or less told him to get off his property or he would kill him,” Richardson added.
Kelvin James Coker meanwhile found his pit bull, grabbed a pistol, and drove the short distance to Nic Coker’s home to confront him, Sheriff Stringer told WPMI, the NBC affiliate in Mobile.
From Sam Hill to Boot Hill
“Moments later 60-year-old Kelvin James Coker pulled up to his son’s home in his truck and a confrontation started,” wrote Daily Mail correspondent Snejana Farberov.
“Nicholas pointed his shotgun at his father, and his father, who was seated in his vehicle, drew his handgun, fired a shot, and struck Nicholas,” Farberov summarized.
Nic, shot in the torso, “fired back, hitting his father in the neck, killing him. Nicholas died shortly later,” finished Jared Leone of the Cox Media Group.
Objected Ariel Anderson, to Easterwood of WKRG, “What I heard and saw, there is no way Nic shot his dad. His dad just showed up angry and for whatever reason did not ask any questions. If he would have, he probably would have agreed [with shooting the pit bulls], but he was just angry and shot Nic, then shot himself. There was no time for an argument. It happened in seconds.”
“Good man & had a kind soul”
Nic Coker, Ariel Anderson said, “was a good man and had a kind soul. Nic was a hero. He died saving my child and trying to protect her.”
Agreed her father, mixed martial arts instructor Tracey Anderson, 52, “Nic was a good man and did a good thing. He died tragically and senselessly, but he died a good man who did a good thing, protecting a child.”
But there is an immense and easily visible difference between the wound inflicted by a pistol shot and the wound inflicted by a shotgun blast. The coroner’s preliminary report, sheriff’s investigator Blake Anderson told media, “shows Kelvin couldn’t have killed himself.”
Both Sheriff Stringer and investigator Anderson noted that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office had “responded to a number of violent incidents over the years at the Coker family’s property” on Sam Hill Road, including one just a week earlier.
Kelvin James Coker previously shot his other son
Fox 10 News “also learned from the sheriff’s office that back in 2012 Kelvin James Coker shot his other son three times in the arm and was charged with first degree assault.”
Kelvin James Coker, according to a family-provided obituary, “Prior to becoming disabled, had been employed as a heavy equipment operator in the road construction industry. He enjoyed hunting.”
Kelvin James Coker and his wife Debra were married in 1983. Nic Coker was born in 1988.
Posted former neighbor Tiffany Spiers to Facebook, “That father has always been mean and cruel to his son. I can remember when Nic would hang out with my oldest brother, as teenagers. He would call my brother, saying him and his father were fighting, to come and get him. I once went with my brother to pick Nic up, and his father had a gun then and was threatening Nic.”
“Wild & savage, of depraved morals”
Other neighbors and former neighbors tended to agree that Kelvin James Coker lived up to the local stereotype described in 1804 by Ephraim Kirby, superior court judge of the Mississippi Territory, to then-U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.
Writing from the first courthouse in Old Saint Stephens, now an archaeological site alongside the Tombigbee River, a mile north of the Coker homestead and two miles west of present Saint Stephens, Kirby observed that his new neighbors were “illiterate, wild and savage, of depraved morals, unworthy of public confidence or private esteems, litigious, disunited, and knowing each other, universally distrustful of each other.”
The Tombigbee River, named “coffin maker” in the Choctaw language, apparently because it was dangerous to cross, marked the western edge of the Choctaw Territory, until the Choctaw were driven west to Oklahoma along the “Trail of Tears” in 1830. It also marked the northern end of the navigable part of the river, which flows south into the Mobile River and Mobile Bay.
Despite Ephraim Kirby’s opinion of the place and the people, Old Saint Stephens, established by Spanish settlers in 1789, ceded to the U.S. in 1799, became capital of the Alabama Territory from 1817 to 1819.
“Huge empty space”
To Ariel Anderson, the killings on December 19, 2020 were far more than just another chapter in the often tragic history of her neighborhood.
“I feel like there’s this huge empty space inside of me where my heart is supposed to be,” she posted to Facebook. “It doesn’t feel like my heart is there right now. The events keep replaying on a loop in my head. It still doesn’t seem real…like a bad dream…but I know it is real. I woke up crying this morning, and wished I could throw my arm over you,” she addressed Nic, “and hold you close and kiss you one more time.
“I already miss you so much,” Ariel Anderson continued, “and how you could be mad at something, and I would put my hand on your face and look in your eyes, and I could feel you just melt, instantly relaxed.
“Had not said it to each other yet”
“We had not said it to each other yet,” Ariel Anderson admitted, still speaking to Nic, “but I love you and I know you loved me. Everybody could see it and I could feel it. I wish I had more time with you. Nobody has ever treated me so good. I ’m not perfect, but I felt like I was in your eyes.
“You told me every single day how beautiful I was and how lucky you were to have me,” Ariel Anderson wrote. “I didn’t know it was possible for a man to treat a woman so good. You weren’t just my boyfriend, you were my best friend, and I know we both had every intention of spending the rest of our lives together. It was like a fairy tale for the short time it lasted. I will always love and miss you. You’ll forever have a special place in my heart that nobody can replace.”
Other pit bull-related homicides
Her feelings, albeit with different specific details, are shared by survivors of five other pit bull-related homicides in 2020 that were committed by other people, rather than the dogs themselves.
Joshua Jadusingh, 27, of Adams, Massachusetts, was attacked by his own two pit bulls on February 5, 2020. Badly injured and screaming for help, Jadusingh was killed accidentally by a neighbor who tried to shoot one of the pit bulls with a crossbow.
Indianapolis mail carrier Angela Summers, 45, herself a pit bull rescuer and advocate, was fatally shot on April 27, 2020 by Tony Cushingberry-Mays, 21, who admitted doing the shooting. Summers had complained about the behavior of two dogs, a Chihuahua and a pit bull, at the Cushingberry-Mays home.
Guy & Harper Hansman, Barbara Rogers
Guy Hansman, 55, and his daughter Harper Hansman, 11, were killed on July 6, 2020, by Ronald John DelSerro, 82, less than an hour after losing a four-month court battle over the designation of his bull mastiff as a dangerous dog. Roxy on March 4, 2020 had invaded the Hansman yard, severely injuring the Hansman family Labradoodle and mauling Monique Hansman, 53, wife of Guy Hansman and mother of Harper Hansman.
(See Monique Hansman’s own account at “We’re not just the family who got murdered over the dog.”)
Barbara “B.J.” Rogers, 68, of Cleveland, Ohio, was shot multiple times at close range on September 14, 2020 by irate pit bull owner and neighbor Johnny Hogue, 80, moments after intervening in an argument between Hogue and her friend Anita Marie Kirk, 53.
Kirk, also a neighbor, had joined Rogers in repeated complaints to police about Hogue and his pit bulls, whom Hogue allegedly often allowed to run at large.