Family of murdered 11-year-old speaks out on loss, regret

Hailey Joyner's family looks at photos of the murdered 11-year-old on Tuesday, July 18. (Nicole Griffin/NewsChannel 12)

BRIDGETON, Craven County - The family of an 11-year-old girl killed allegedly by a teenager in the house she was living in spoke to NewsChannel 12 on Tuesday about their pain and one mother's regret.

Hailey Joyner was shot and killed on Saturday morning in the home she was living in, with one of that home's occupants - 16-year-old Justin Johnson - charged with her murder. Hailey had just graduated 5th grade at Bridgeton Elementary School and was looking forward to middle school.

She had dreams of becoming a veterinarian.

Now her mother's dreams are filled with an image she'll likely never be able to forget.

"Last night when I was trying to go to sleep, I kept seeing her lying on the cold steel table," Hailey's mother, Rebecca McNeeese, said. "It just kept flashing in my head over and over."

Rebecca tries to remember the happier times with Hailey.

"She was always dancing she was always singing something," she said. "I went on YouTube and i watched her videos and she is trying to belt them out - she makes you laugh so hard."

A phone call from her niece on Saturday changed all of that for Rebecca. Upon finding out the news, Rebecca called her mother.

"Never did I imagine that she was going to say my Hailey bug is gone," Hailey's grandmother said. "Just as i realized what she was saying, the rain just poured and I was standing there in the rain and I knew it was Hailey crying, it was her tears."

Rebecca said she lost custody a little more than a year ago due to a battle with drug addiction. That weighed heavily as she talked about the loss of her daughter.

"She should have been with me," Rebecca said. "I'm her mom - I'm supposed to keep her, I'm supposed to protect her.

"I'm going to have to live with that for the rest of my life"

Hailey was living in a home on Antioch Road near Bridgeton with family friends. Justin Johnson is being held in the Craven County Jail on no bond and, if convicted, could face life in prison with no possibility of parole for Hailey's murder. The Craven County Sheriff's Office has said the investigation into Hailey's death remains ongoing and more arrests could result.

The family started a GoFundMe page on Monday to help pay for funeral expenses and has seen nearly $4,000 come in to help in the first 24 hours.