The family of Tamla Horsford, a 40-year-old mother of five, is speaking out for the first time about her mysterious death at a 2018 slumber party in Forsyth County, Ga.
Horsford, who was the only Black attendee of the slumber party, was found the next day face down in the backyard of the home. Police ruled her death an accident, stating that, under the influence of alcohol, Xanax and marijuana, she must have fallen from a second-story deck of the house.
But that story never made sense to Horsford’s family, who speculated foul play early on in the investigation due to the nature of her injuries.
“We need answers that make sense. None of this makes sense. None of it,” Horsford’s sister, Summer St. Jour Jones told CNN in a recent interview (h/t WABE).
A Rolling Stone article from July details how investigators treated the case and what has happened in the years since.
Horsford attended the adult slumber party in November 2018 to celebrate the birthday of her friend, Jeanne Meyers, at her home. Meyers was concerned about guests drinking and driving, so she invited guests to stay the night. In total, 12 people ended up attending the party, including Meyers’ boyfriend, Jose Barrerra, and the husband of another guest. Eight people, including Horsford, planned to spend the night.
Horsford went to Meyers’ home after making dinner for her family, bringing an overnight bag and a bottle of tequila. She was known among friends as being the life of the party, Rolling Stone reports, and her blood alcohol content the next day was shown to be quite high: .238, almost three times the legal limit to drive in the state of Georgia.
But according to people attending the party—as well as photos and videos taken from that night—Horsford didn’t appear incoherent or sick at any point in that night.
So how, her family and friends say, did she manage to fall over a four-foot railing to her death, as police claim she did?
“Never ever ever have I seen my sister sloppy drunk and incoherent. So I doubt that she would pick a sleep-over with people she was just getting to know to start behaving that way,” Jones said.
Ralph Fernandez, an attorney for Horsford’s family, has repeatedly pointed to inconsistencies in her injuries that make a second-story fall being the cause of death implausible.
From Rolling Stone:
According to the autopsy from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, Horsford showed blunt force trauma to her head, neck, torso, and extremities, including abrasions of the face, four types of hemorrhages in the skull and brain, dislocation of the right wrist, and cuts on her arms and legs. Additionally, she suffered a broken neck and laceration of the right ventricle of the heart. According to the incident report written by lead investigator Mike Christian, Horsford’s body position was also examined at the scene. “Most notable, when Tamla was turned over was the fact she had come to rest face down,” Christian writes. “Her head had not been canted to one side or the other.” Horsford’s legs were found extended behind her, with both feet pointing to the right, and her right arm close to her body. Her left arm was found extended and bent at the elbow.
Fernandez recently noted to WABE the cuts on her hands and wrists are particularly suspicious, and could be “defensive wound” from fending off an attack. He also questioned why security cameras at Meyers’ homes just happened to be off the night Horsford died (Barrerra, who made the call to 911 the next morning, told investigators the cameras had run out of battery and stopped recording).
The attorney also says the police compromised the investigation into Horsford’s death in a way that will make it difficult to get answers. No fingerprints were taken at the scene, and Barrerra admitted to moving Horsford’s body in order to check if she was alive. He also moved an unlit cigarette and lighter on the deck before moving Horsford. The scene of her death was never secured, and no sexual assault kit or fingernail clippings were collected. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Fernandez also pointed to the “unheard of” lack of autopsy photos, which he says must have been done at someone’s direction.
Barrerra, who worked as a pretrial officer, was later fired for using his position to access an incident report about Horsford’s death. According to the Forsyth County News, Barrerra also leaked information about a close friend of Horsford, Michelle Graves, who has accused the attendees of the party—known as the Forsyth 12—of being responsible for Horsford’s death.
“The case is compromised from start to finish,” Fernandez told WABE. “I am not saying that somebody killed her. I am saying the overwhelming probability is that this was foul play and it was mishandled.” He also expressed doubt that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would adequately investigate the reopened case.
Spurred by this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and renewed interest in the case, the GBI decided to reinvestigate Horsford’s death in June.
Jones, Horsford’s sister, is frustrated it took so long for authorities to take her family’s concerns seriously.
“It’s unfortunate that it has to take other people’s heartbreak and other people’s loss for the proper attention to be given this case involving my sister.”