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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Memory of one Hedingham victim inspired Rob Steele to run for Raleigh City Council

Rob Steele is a candidate for Raleigh City Council. Steele’s fiancée was killed in the mass shooting in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood last year.
Kate Medley
/
for WUNC
Rob Steele is a candidate for Raleigh City Council. Steele’s fiancée was killed in the mass shooting in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood last year.

A note to readers: This story contains a reference to self-harm.


Last October, a teenage gunman shot and killed five people in the Hedingham neighborhood in Raleigh. Mary Marshall, an office manager who was walking her dog that evening, was among the victims.

She was set to marry her fiancé, Rob Steele, later that month.

Nearly a year later, the memory of Marshall is fresh in Steele’s mind as he starts a campaign for Raleigh City Council.

A quiet street in northeast Raleigh

Mary Marshall was one of five people killed in a mass shooting in Raleigh's Hedingham neighborhood October 13, 2022
Rob Steele
/
Submitted Image
Mary Marshall was one of five people killed in a mass shooting in Raleigh's Hedingham neighborhood Oct. 13, 2022.

Hedingham is a portrait of American suburbia.

On Hedingham Boulevard, flowers dot the soil in front of a short brick wall that bears the neighborhood’s name in gold block letters. It leads to a roundabout gently bending toward rows of two-story houses and the local golf course.

"I love this neighborhood. Everything about it," says Steele, 39, a property manager who moved to Hedingham with his fiancée, Mary Marshall, in 2020.

"[Mary was] loud, opinionated and not afraid to tell you," Steele recalls. "Sweet, funny… They called her 'The BOM,' Back Office Manager. The two-and-half years I had Mary was the best two-and-a-half years of my life."

Steele fixes his gaze on a tall magnolia tree as he walks through the thick summer air.

"The neighborhood is quiet. It's peaceful," Steele says. "With that one exception, you don't really have crime problems here in the neighborhood."

That one exception happened on Oct. 13, 2022. Authorities say a white male juvenile went on a shooting rampage in Hedingham that killed Mary and four others, including the shooter’s brother and an off-duty Raleigh police officer.

The police would later tell Steele that Mary’s dog, Scruff, was guarding her body when they arrived. Steele says that evening, Mary’s friends and coworkers grieved with him.

Rob Steele is a candidate for Raleigh (N.C.) City Council. Steele’s fiancé was killed in the mass shooting in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood last year.
Kate Medley
/
for WUNC
The south entrance to the Hedingham neighborhood in Raleigh, N.C., leads to the local golf course

"I was angry. I was emotional," Steele remembers. "I was not comfortable with the idea of my gun being in my house because I was honestly very worried that I was either going to attempt to hurt the person who killed Mary or I was going to be at risk of hurting myself."

"I went up to my room, I opened up my safe, I took my gun out, I unloaded it, and I put it in a holster," he continues. "I brought it downstairs."

Steele asked Mary’s boss to put it in her own gun safe.

"... And to keep it there until both she and I felt that I was okay to have it back," he says. "God, it’s been 10 months, and I still don’t have that gun back. I haven’t even asked. I’m not ready."

Steele has called this "red flagging" himself, referring to gun control measures known as red flag laws. They generally allow a judge to restrict a person's access to firearms if they are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

Steele supports passing such a law in North Carolina but acknowledges there is little to no appetite for gun control measures among the Republican supermajorities in both houses of the General Assembly.

Paying it forward

Rob Steele is a candidate for Raleigh (N.C.) City Council. Steele’s fiancé was killed in the mass shooting in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood last year.
Kate Medley
/
for WUNC
Rob Steele walks down a street in a the Hedingham neighborhood in Raleigh, N.C. on a day in August, 2023.

Rob Steele walks in silence for a moment, waving at drivers who pass by. Some of them could be the people who offered their help after Mary’s death, the people he’s seeking to represent in next year’s elections for Raleigh City Council.

"A lot of them I don’t know," Steele says. "People would cook meals and bring them to my house and knock on the door, drop it off on the front step and they'd be gone by the time I got to the door.

"It's less about paying back the people who helped me directly and instead more about paying it forward. Because I can't pay them back, but I can pay all the help and support that I got forward by taking care of people who don't have a voice."

In July, Steele announced he would run for an at-large seat on the city council, a council whose members Steele has said should resign.

"This one thing I lay directly at the feet of Wake County and the city of Raleigh. There is no emergency alert system for ongoing violent crimes in our city," Steele told the city council last November.

A citywide emergency alert system is now a key component of Steele’s platform for city council. He has said he believes it could have saved Mary. He also wants to increase the number of affordable housing units in Raleigh, and add more Citizen Advisory Councils, groups of residents who advise the city council on a range of issues important to their neighborhoods.

Steele has criticized city council members for what he has called an unwillingness to engage with Raleigh residents.

"They're failing to maintain an ability for people of lower income to be able to afford to live in the city," Steele says. "They're failing to maintain the cleanliness of the streets, things that should be very forefront in their job description. And they're not doing it. Not well enough."

Steele worries about affordable housing in particular. He says, if elected, he would lobby the North Carolina legislature to give Raleigh more control to implement inclusionary zoning, a policy that would allow the city council to force developers to include more affordable housing units in new construction.

Raleigh currently offers a financial incentive for developers to add more units to apartment buildings than zoning would usually allow if they agree to rent a portion of those units at below-market rates.

"Unless those incentives are so much more money than what they're going to get from renting out their upper-middle or luxury income apartments, they're not going to. They have no reason to," Steele says.

Steele says he would not be able to stay in Hedingham if it weren’t for the generosity of his neighbors. After the shooting, people contributed thousands of dollars to a GoFundMe page. And the venue where he and Mary Marshall were to be married agreed to refund their deposit.

Steele says he’s still using that money to pay rent even though his landlord also agreed to lower his monthly payments.

Starting early

Rob Steele is a candidate for Raleigh (N.C.) City Council. Steele’s fiancé was killed in the mass shooting in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood last year.
Kate Medley
/
for WUNC
Rob Steele credits the generosity of Hedingham residents for being able to stay in the neighborhood.

Steele is a political newcomer. He says that’s at least part of why he launched his campaign for city council more than a year before the election. Raleigh’s current at-large council members — Stormie Forte and Jonathan Melton — have not yet said publicly whether they intend to run for reelection.

In the meantime, Steele says he’s trying to follow a piece of advice he got from his father: to surround himself with people like Mary.

"If I get elected and I do something or say something that isn't to my nature for whatever reason, I have people that will pick up the phone and call me and tell me I'm an idiot, tell me that Mary wouldn't be proud of what I'm doing," Steele says. "And I promise you, if somebody pulls the 'Mary-wouldn't-be-proud' card, I'm going to rein it back in and be the person that she wanted me to be, that she knew I could be."

Time and again, Steele refers to Marshall when he talks about healing from the tragedy of losing her and how he intends to lead if elected to the Raleigh city council.

"She taught me a lot about being able to sort through what I was feeling and figure out what I'm feeling and be able to communicate it," Steele says. "I'd be dead if it wasn't for that, to be quite frank. If it wasn't from what I learned from her, I wouldn’t have been able to survive losing her.

"In a lot of ways, Mary saved me."

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.