March 22, 2014

Maternal grandparents demanding justice for slain granddaughter

Paul and Nina Rodgers and others in the family are “shocked” that Mia, 9, was allegedly killed by her paternal grandfather

The maternal family of the 9-year-old Rock Hill girl shot to death on Friday is demanding justice now that police have charged the girl’s paternal grandfather with killing her.

The slaying occurred during an ongoing custody dispute over the girl, Mia Rodgers.

“All we can do is hope and pray for justice,” Paul Rodgers, Mia’s maternal grandfather, said in an interview with The Herald Saturday at his Rock Hill home.

Mia and her paternal grandmother, Barbara Gregory, 71, were shot and killed by Ronald Fred Gregory, 67, before Ronald Gregory shot himself twice, police allege.

Gregory, who remained hospitalized Saturday, now faces two counts of murder. Because there were two victims, and Mia was younger than 10, state law could allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Sang Mee “Nina” Rodgers, Mia’s maternal grandmother, cried Saturday while explaining how she and her husband raised the girl almost from birth until she was about 7.

“She wanted to be a doctor when she grew up,” Nina Rodgers said.

Paul Rodgers, 58, a retired U.S. Army soldier, said Mia’s shooting shocked him Friday, and a day later he still was stunned.

“I can’t fathom it even now,” Paul Rodgers said. “My first reaction – I just couldn’t believe it. We were right in the middle of trying to get Mia back.”

Rodgers learned Friday that his granddaughter was dead after picking up another grandchild at school, stopping at a Walmart for ice cream for the kids for the weekend, and then expecting to pick up Mia for weekend visitation. The Gregorys had been granted temporary custody in October.

The Rodgers family read on The Herald’s website about the incident on Idlewild Drive west of Rock Hill Friday afternoon. The victims had not been named at that point, but the Rodgers knew that was where Mia’s paternal grandparents lived, and rushed over. There it was confirmed by police that Mia was dead.

Mia’s uncle, Aaron Rodgers, said Saturday that the family will demand justice for Mia.

“She deserves it,” Aaron Rodgers said.

Paul and Nina Rodgers, and their son and daughter-in-law, have been in a custody battle with Ronald Gregory, the alleged killer, and Gregory’s wife and son, Kevin Gregory, since 2013. Before that, Paul and Nina Rodgers said, Mia lived with them while her mother attended college in Pennsylvania. The Gregorys – the accused killer and his wife – had voluntarily agreed to visitation on weekends from about 2005 to 2010, when Mia’s mother finished college, Paul Rodgers said.

“Most of her life she lived with us,” Paul Rodgers said of Mia.

Mia then went to live in Texas with her mother, Angie Lee Benoit, the Rodgers family says. Nina Rodgers said she went to Texas and helped take care of Mia there.

But last year, Mia’s father, Kevin Gregory, filed suit for parental custody. Then Mia’s mother was diagnosed with leukemia. Before she died, Benoit tried to terminate Kevin Gregory’s parental rights, court records from Texas show.

In 2013, with her mother sick, Mia came back to Rock Hill to live with Paul and Nina Rodgers and enrolled in school in September, Paul Rodgers said. Then in late September, the Rodgers family was hit with the custody lawsuit from the Gregorys. In early October, Paul Rodgers went to court without a lawyer, and Ronald Fred Gregory – now accused of double homicide – was awarded custody of Mia along with Gregory’s wife and son.

“They took custody and we were granted custody of Mia every other weekend,” Paul Rodgers said. “This would have been our weekend.”

Benoit’s brother and sister-in-law, Eric and Karen Rodgers of Alabama, filed court documents in January seeking custody. They argued that Mia “had little contact and no relationship” with the Gregorys..

“Her (Mia’s mother’s) wishes were that Mia and her brother stayed together and were raised together,” Karen Rodgers said Saturday at her in-laws home.

The last time Nina and Paul Rodgers said they saw Mia was two weekends ago when they took her to Chuck E. Cheese’s. They bought a picture at the restaurant playplace.

It is the last picture they have of Mia.

“She was smiling,” her grandmother said.

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