We’ve all heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” But for three North Carolina women, words not only hurt them, but they were deadly.

According to Durham police, 23-year-old Brinton Marcell Millsap shot three female acquaintances and killed himself because of a rumor that he had been exposed to herpes.

The weekend prior to the murder-suicide, Millsap had sex with Alexandria J. Baker Pierce, a woman he’d know since middle school. After sleeping together, Pierce’s good friend apparently started a rumor that she had herpes, and Millsap had been exposed to the disease.

After trying to clear up the rumor, Pierce, a senior at UNC Greensboro, decided to discuss the situation with Millsap in person.

Pierce’s mother, Anita Baker, told the New Observer that she spoke with her daughter the Thursday before the slayings and thought things with Millsap had been resolved. However, the next day she said Pierce told her, “This is such nonsense, and I really need to go and sit down with him in person.”

Pierce and two friends, Amesha Alia Page-Smith and Adrianne Celeste Stevens, drove to Durham from Greensboro to tell Millsap that the rumors were untrue. Unfortunately, he either didn’t believe her or didn’t give Pierce a chance to explain.

All three women were fatally shot, and Millsap, who had been battling Lupus and was apparently told by doctors he didn’t have long to live, killed himself.

Prior to killing the women, Millsap threatened that he’d kill Pierce if he found she gave him herpes

The New Observer writes:

The previous weekend Page-Smith, Pierce and Stevens had gone to a cookout together, Williams said. Either during or after the cookout, Pierce and Millsap had sex, Williams said.

As they spoke on the phone June 6, Page-Smith said Millsap and his friend kept calling her phone saying they had heard Pierce had herpes, Williams said.

“Brinton said if he goes to the doctor and his test results come back positive, he was going to kill A.J. (Pierce),'” Williams said, recounting her telephone conversation.

“At that time me and Amesha were just joking about it,” Williams said. “And I am just like, ‘It is not that serious. I mean it is not HIV.'”

Although it’s unclear if Millsap had any reason other than the rumor to think he had contracted herpes, his brother, Dustin Lyons, said that since his Lupus diagnosis had taken a turn for the worse Millsap had been making bad choices.

“That kind of changed his way of life,” said Millsap’s brother, Lyons. “He had symptoms. It makes your bones ache. He was going through a lot of stuff. He was looking at things differently.”

A family friend, Stephanie Adcock, agreed: “I really think that had a big weight on him,” Adcock said. “It was just the small things, he was doing so well in school, and with sports, it just seems like after that happened it just kind of started to fall apart for him a little bit.”

It is unclear why Pierce’s friend told Millsap that she was infected with herpes, but this tragedy could have been avoided.

Although herpes is an incurable disease, it is not life threatening. Many researchers believe that nearly 20% of the U.S. population is infected with the disease, and most go on to live long, healthy lives.

Despite the tragedy, Pierce’s mother, Anita Baker, says that she loved all four young people who lost their lives, including Millsap.

“From my perspective we loved all of those four young people and we share equally in the loss of all four,” Baker said. “And I feel very strongly we will all come through this together, from the love and support of the entire community.”

It looks like Ms. Baker can teach us all a thing or two about forgiveness.

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