*UPDATE: The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a Philadelphia man for the murder of Elijah Wood.*
Elijah Wood was a 23-year-old living in Oconee County, Georgia. His family, including his father, Todd; his twin sister, Mary; and his two brothers, David and Steven, moved to the area seven years prior from Oglethorpe County, just outside of Winterville, Georgia.
Despite being large in stature, Elijah was described as a teddy bear who loved everyone. He was a deeply religious man and was willing to help anyone in need, often going out of his way to check on his loved ones.
At 1:30am on the morning of March 19, 2021, Elijah was working the second shift at the RaceTrac convenience store at 7921 Macon Highway in Watkinsville, Georgia when a masked individual walked in and shot him behind the counter.
Police were notified of the crime at 1:42am, after a patron on their way to work stopped by the store and discovered Elijah. Despite attempts to revive him, the 23-year-old was pronounced dead by medical personnel. His murder was the county’s first in two years.
Surveillance cameras caught footage of Elijah’s killer. The individual, whose gender and race is currently unknown, was dressed in all black. They wore black slacks, boots, a black hoodie and face mask, along with yellow and black Battle Sport gloves. They were armed with a pistol, which was used to murder the young convenience store clerk.
The surveillance footage shows the individual entering the store and shooting Elijah. They started back toward the entrance before pausing, returning to the counter momentarily and then running out of the store. They appeared to have an athletic build, and stood between 5’10” and 6’0″. Their gait, as seen in the footage, is distinct, and it’s hoped someone will recognize them based on their walk or mannerisms.
Investigators have also released footage of a vehicle believed to have been used by the killer. Prior to the murder, a vehicle of unknown make and colour was see travelling south along Highway 411, turning right onto Hog Mountain Road, driving past the RaceTrac store, turning right onto Welbrook Road and stopping for a length of time before finally driving away. To try and obtain a better view of the vehicle, police have gathered additional surveillance footage from locations along Hog Mountain Road and Highway 411, all of which have been thoroughly examined.
Despite the vehicle never pulling into the RaceTrac’s parking lot, the timing and the way it’s being driven indicate the likelihood it was the suspect’s vehicle. Therefore, investigators have asked anyone who may have been in the area between 12:45am and 1:30am on March 19 to contact them.
A GoFundMe campaign was set up to help the family pay for funeral and burial expenses. It raised a total of $44,020. They are currently discussing the possibility of starting a memorial fund in Elijah’s name with the excess funds raised.
Shortly after the murder, the FBI and RaceTrac each contributed $5,000 toward a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those involved in the crime. It was later increased to $25,000 in April, after the sheriff’s office set up “The Sheriff’s Reward Fund” with Oconee State Bank for public donations.
In order to drum up leads, police knocked on doors in the surrounding area. RaceTrac also made efforts to raise awareness by placing a sign in front of the store, which reads “#JusticeForElijah” and asks motorists to report anything suspicious they may have seen. The area surrounding the sign has been turned into a makeshift memorial, with Oconee County residents leaving stuffed animals, flowers, candles and other mementos in honour of Elijah’s life.
A digital billboard across the street from the RaceTrac store features a slide dedicated to the case. It shows a picture of Elijah, a description of his killer and a plea for tips leading to the arrest of those involved.
Thousands of flyers have been distributed across the county and as far away as North Carolina and Alabama. RaceTrac has also placed posters advertising the reward in all its Athens-area stores.
The reward for information was increased to $50,000 in July 2021. It comprises of $20,000 from the FBI, $15,000 from RaceTrac, $5,500 from the reward fund, and $10,000 from the Oconee Board of Commissioners. The family has also set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise additional funds.
Elijah’s family has started a Facebook group, Family and friends of #JusticeForElijah, to keep the case in the public eye.
The sheriff’s office has teamed up with the GBI; the FBI; the ATF; US Marshals; district attorney investigators; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and numerous area law enforcement agencies throughout the course of the investigation. The cooperative effort has produced 43 persons of interest, all of which have been investigated to determine if they’ve been involved in similar crimes in other jurisdictions. 12 search warrants have been executed, including data search warrants for electronic devices, and countless witness, tipster and field interviews have been conducted.
The case is still being actively investigated and leads continue to come in. Police have delved into Elijah’s background and looked into those he knew. At present, the working theory is his murder was the result of a botched robbery, but police have been careful with the information they release, so as to not jeopardize the integrity of the investigation. Although no arrest has been made and no suspects publicly name, they’ve revealed there is evidence that only the suspect would know about.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office at either 706-769-3945 or 706-769-5665. Tips can also be called in to the FBI’s Atlanta office at 770-216-3000.
Image Credit: Facebook