S.C. Teen Died Mysteriously in 2015. His Case Was Reopened When Investigators Looked into Murdaugh Murders

Stephen Smith was found dead in the middle of a dark Hampton County road, and his mother believes he was murdered

Last Sunday afternoon, family and friends of Stephen Smith, a South Carolina teen who died under mysterious circumstances in 2015, traveled to the Gooding Cemetery in Hampton County, S.C.

There, they listened to gospel songs, speeches and unveiled a new headstone for the 19-year-old's grave, which is close to the spot where his father, who died three months after his son, is buried.

"[Stephen's mother] has said it was from a broken heart," Susanne Andrews, the founder of #StandingforStephen, a group that raised funds for the headstone, tells PEOPLE.

Also buried close by is Stephen's brother, who died as a baby.

"Stephen's getting his final resting place honored and recognized," says Andrews.

stephen smith's headstone
Stephen Smith's headstone. Courtesy Suzanne Andrews

"My son will be 18 in November, and I just couldn't imagine in six years that no one had come to Stephen's mom's aid for memorializing her son," Andrews says. "That no family, no community, no friends, no one had come to help her try to get a headstone. This is about a child that deserves to be memorialized and commemorated, and a mother to have support that she hadn't had."

At the time of his death, Smith was a 19-year-old Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College student who was studying to become a nurse. How he died remains a mystery to this day.

Stephen Smith facebook no credit
Stephen Smith. Facebook

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up forPEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

Smith was found dead with deep gashes to his head in the middle of a dark Hampton County road on July 8, 2015. His car was discovered three miles away with the gas cap off.

His death was ruled a hit-and-run, but his mother Sandy Smith, who attended Sunday's unveiling, has long suspected he was murdered. She has been searching for answers ever since.

"Here she is seven years later, still hanging in there, still going strong, still ready to do whatever it takes to find the answers," Smith family attorney Mike Hemlepp tells PEOPLE. "Sandy and I both believe that this was a murder. We've made no secret about what our goal is. Whoever did this to Stephen should go to prison. If anyone helped cover up what happened, they should be held accountable."

Maggie Murdaugh; Paul Murdaugh
Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. Maggie Murdaugh Facebook

Sunday's vigil was held just days after news broke that disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was indicted by a grand jury on murder charges in connection with the June 2021 deaths of his wife Maggie, 52, and 22-year-old son Paul. Mother and son were gunned down on their 1,770-acre estate in the small town of Islandton.

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Sandy Smith said she was grateful that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), handing the Murdaugh investigation, and the Attorney General's Office have provided "some closure" in the deaths.

People Magazine August 1, 2022 cover

"While the many questions about my son's death remain, this action gives me hope that we will get justice for my Stephen," she said.

Stephen's death is one of several mysterious or accidental deaths that have swirled around the Murdaugh family in recent years.

Alex Murdaugh
Alex Murdaugh. Hampton County Detention Center/AP/Shutterstock

Gloria Satterfield, who worked for the Murdaugh family for more than 20 years, died at the Murdaugh home in February 2018. At the time, her death was classified as an accidental slip and fall, but authorities have reopened the investigation.

In June, SLED announced that they planned to exhume her body.

In 2019, a boat operated by Paul Murdaugh crashed against a bridge pylon, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach and seriously injuring two other passengers. At the time of his death, Paul was awaiting trial after being charged with several felonies in connection to the deadly crash, including boating under the influence.

After Paul and Maggie Murdaugh's murders, SLED announced that their investigation had led them to look into Stephen's death.

The investigation was opened "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh," a SLED spokesperson said.

For more on the ever-evolving Murdaugh case, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

The spokesperson did not say what information SLED had gathered that led the agency to open its own investigation into Stephen's death.

Hemlepp tells PEOPLE: "I know there are people who know what happened to Stephen. The old way of doing business in Hampton does not exist anymore. There's a bright light being shined on that county. And anyone who knows anything needs to come forward."

Hemlepp says SLED investigators have "been engaging in regular communication with Sandy."

"I know that they're working hard and that this is not a cold case," he says.

Andrews, who helped raise more than $40,000 for the headstone and for a scholarship in Stephen's name, says she's thankful for all the worldwide support Sandy has received in her fight for answers.

"She now has more people than she knows what to do with," says Andrews. "And it's amazing to be a part of that and to see it. We have got to keep the light on his story and to keep the fire underneath other people's behinds to get it solved. No one's going to feel like they're being held accountable if we don't bring attention to it."

"My hope is that she finds answers that will give her a little bit of peace," she adds.

Related Articles