This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Chanelle Wells grew up in Indiana. She loved to travel and go shopping. She often went skating at least twice a week. She loved to eat good food and spend time with family, so Christmas and Thanksgiving were naturally her favorite holidays.
She was a dreamer. Chanelle loved basketball so much, she wanted to have enough children of her own to start a basketball team. She loved kids, so much that she wanted to open a daycare center.
Chanelle was a kindhearted person. She was often quiet, but easy to talk to once she opened up. Dawn Walker, Chanelle’s mother, described her as “an all-around loving person.”
Everyone considered themselves to be best friends with Chanelle, probably because she always found the good in people and encouraged them to do their best in life. “She was non-judgmental and would befriend anyone.” Dawn said.
Lots of people looked up to her as a mentor. “Chanelle never made an enemy,” AshLynne Stokes said of her older sister. “There’s not a hateful bone in her body.” The two sisters were inseparable when they were growing up.
AshLynne loves to tell the story of when they were playing in the car outside. Their mother was inside the house and the girls found matches in the glove compartment. Chanelle, the cautious older sister, warned AshLynne not to light the matches. She did anyway, and, in a panic, threw the lit matches back where they were found. Dawn came out to see what was going on, as the smoke was rising from the glove compartment.
That story makes AshLynne laugh to this day. “You didn’t see her without me and vice versa,” she said. “My favorite memory is just being with her.”
In July 2008, Indianapolis was hosting the annual Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration, a multiday multicultural event full of education, music, and events. Chanelle, her husband, and AshLynne loved attending and enjoying the scene.
Chanelle decided she wasn’t interested in attending the event one night. She didn’t want to stay at home either, as there had been reports recently of two home invasions in which two women and their children were murdered.
Her husband Randy attended the Expo that night and spent the evening with other family members. Chanelle called AshLynne three times in a row before deciding to call it a night early so she could get her hair done before the concert the next day.
Later that night, intruders broke into the Wells home. The home was ransacked. Chanelle was shot.
One of Chanelle’s cousins was living with them at the time. She and Chanelle’s youngest child were hiding underneath the bed at the time of the incident. AshLynne received a phone call soon after saying that Chanelle had been shot. AshLynne lived just a few blocks away and immediately jumped in her car and drove over to the Wells residency.
By the time AshLynne arrived, the ambulance had already left for the hospital.
Dawn and her husband Malachi were on their way to Atlanta to tour a college with a bus-full of students. Malachi, a retired firefighter and current minister and peace activist, worked closely with Young Men Incorporated to mentor teenage boys.
Chanelle’s two oldest sons were also on the trip that night. AshLynne called her father nearly 20 times before Dawn finally answered the phone.
When they heard the news, they immediately turned around and headed back to Indianapolis.
Chanelle was admitted to surgery upon arrival at the hospital. Doctors did all they could to keep her alive until the family could arrive to say goodbye.
When the family was finally allowed to see Chanelle, “all the machines she was hooked up to went off when we walked in the room,” AshLynne said. She feels certain her sister was responding to the sound of her voice.
And then Chanelle was gone.
Dawn was on her knees in the bathroom, dry heaving in shock and disbelief.
“They used to call us ‘the little happy family,’” Dawn said. “Our family is happy but in a different way now. It’s like a piece of that family is gone.”
More than a decade later, the family still does not know who shot Chanelle, or why.
Two suspects were brought in for questioning, but nothing came of it. There have been no new leads in twelve years, leaving the family just as lost and heartbroken as the day they found out.
“Time doesn’t heal all wounds,” Dawn said. “Time just makes it tolerable.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Chanelle Wells, please contact the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department at (317) 327-3811.
Research & Impact
Surviving family members often share the weight they carry by advocating awareness for their lost loved ones. The family carries the burden of consistently engaging with the investigating agency, reaching out to media outlets for greater outreach, and addressing their own grief journey.
While the survivors of a cold case homicide can readily and quickly identify their loved one as a victim, they often hesitate in defining themselves as a victim. More than just the deceased are impacted by these crimes, so you have every right to label yourself as a victim as well. Surviving victims should also work towards their own self-care throughout their journey, despite the overwhelming impact the other aspects of advocacy may weigh on their lives.
At Project: Cold Case, we host monthly grief support meetings with peers who are currently experiencing the same journey. These meetings often grant survivors “permission” to address their self-care, which can open the doors to much-needed healing and reflection.
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