16 News Now Investigates: Family seeks answers in police-involved death of Niles native Rodney Applewhite

Family members haven’t gotten a response from police in nearly two weeks. 16 News Now’s Josh Short is digging deeper.
Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 6:36 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Tonight, a 16 News Now Investigation delves into the shooting death of Rodney Applewhite. Late last month, the Niles native and South Bend transplant was headed to Arizona to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday. He never made it.

He was shot and killed by state police in the New Mexico village of Los Lunas. State Police (NMSP) say the 25-year-old tried to take one of their troopers’ gun. Tonight, 16 news now’s Joshua Short is searching for answers on what led up to the shooting and why the family says they haven’t heard from investigators in nearly two weeks.

We’re digging deeper into the series of events before Applewhite was shot. We want to add context and get answers in this very complicated story for both you at home and for Applewhite’s family. They still have many questions about what happened on Nov. 19 and tell me they’re still waiting to talk to investigators.

But as we search for answers, we start with who Rodney was. I spoke with his mother Katrina Cox and his sister Baysia Cox who did not want to go on camera during our Zoom conversation. They admit Rodney had a troubled past but also a promising future, a future ending just days before Thanksgiving.

“Rodney was not a killer or a person that would hurt somebody,” Katrina said. “He was trying to get his life together.”

But life got hard in 2015. Rodney chose not to continue serving with the Indiana National Guard. He was discharged.

“He decided he didn’t want to do the National Guard anymore because of the shooting and stuff like that…he really didn’t like that,” Katrina told Josh.

Soon after, as a student at IUSB, he was involved in an attempted robbery. Court documents say he was the getaway driver for two other robbery suspects. He was sentenced to two years in the Ducomb Center in 2016.

In 2017, he failed to return there while on work release and was charged and sentenced to 18 months in Community Corrections.

His sister Baysia says Rodney was still on probation this year but managed to find two jobs in Elkhart after his release.

“One, he was at a factory and the other one he was at Hacienda on weeknights,” she said.

Rodney wanted to see his family for the Thanksgiving holiday, so he decided to make the 27-hour drive to Phoenix, Arizona where his family now lives.

His family believes Rodney left Tuesday night. He was set to arrive on Thursday the 19th but never got there.

A State Police press release says, at 8:32 Thursday morning, local time, police tried to stop a grey Chrysler 200 on a desolate, desert highway.

But the driver – who the family confirms was Applewhite – did not stop.

Police then chased Applewhite’s car, and even used tire deflation devices, before the chase was called off due to traffic and road conditions.

Just minutes later, at 8:39, State Police got another call through dispatch of a man standing in the middle of an expressway trying to stop traffic.

Two Troopers responded and tried to arrest the man who we now know was Applewhite.

They say he resisted arrest, then grabbed one of the troopers’ gun. That’s when a shot was fired. Applewhite was hit. He later died at an Albuquerque hospital.

Later that day, Applewhite’s aunt knew something was wrong when her nephew hadn’t arrived in town.

“She was digging and said ‘I found something,’”explained Baysia. [She] just said ‘I don’t think that this was him because it said the suspect succumbed to his injuries.’ So that’s not something she wanted to accept. And my mom was like send the article to me. She sent the article to my mom and my mom sent it to myself and we knew immediately, because of the car…so that’s how we found out,” she added.

Shortly before 5:30 Thursday, Katrina called the Sheriff’s office to confirm her worst fears. She says dispatchers answered and told her they would send an email to investigators. An investigator called her back later that day.

“Then he called back and I asked him and he asked ‘who are you?’ and I told him,” Katrina explained. “Then he asked for information and was like ‘Yes ma’am, that was your son.’”

The next day, Saturday, Katrina reached out again to the number investigators gave her… but it was a wrong number. But she says the investigator eventually called back with information.

Applewhite’s mom then made another call for information on Saturday and how to go about receiving her son’s belongings.

“I asked could they email him to return my call because I have some more questions because I couldn’t think the first day when they told me it was my child,” Katrina said. “And they hadn’t returned my call since then.”

To that point, earlier this week, we reached out to state police in New Mexico. We asked when they last spoke to Rodney Applewhite’s family but hey have not responded.

They did respond to our request for an on-camera interview telling us they could not comment on-camera because this is an active investigation.

To get more context to this complex story, we have requested body camera footage from that day in Los Lunas.

We learned yesterday that request is being processed, we’ll keep you posted on that.

Before this story aired, Josh spoke again with Rodney’s sister Baysia. She tells Josh the family has received Rodney’s body and they are currently working on funeral arrangements.

We know some of you have followed this incident on social media. So trust us, we will keep you up to date on what we learn as this investigation continues.

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