Sabrina Nguyen loved her long black hair. Sometimes it went up in a bun, but most often, she wore it down. The only times she ever cut it was to trim the dead ends.
It alarmed her family, then, when a few days before Christmas, her hair was raggedly chopped to her shoulders.
It was her ex-boyfriend, again, she told her family.
He’d stolen her phone and car, court records show. A report filed with her insurance company says he physically abused her, threatened to stab her and threatened to kill himself. He threatened to cut off her hair if she didn’t comply with his sexual demands.
Nguyen gave police several accounts of her ex-boyfriend’s escalating threats and violence in the weeks before she died.
The 18-year-old’s stabbing death, the first homicide of the new year, was preventable, her family and friends said.
“I feel like (the police) failed my little sister,” said Jimmy Nguyen, Sabrina Nguyen’s older brother. “Every time we called them and told them what happened … they wasn’t really trying to help.”
Memphis police said the department did what it could: Officers arrested Keedrin K. Coppage, 22, seven times for incidents with Nguyen but whether or not he’d be released from jail was not up to police, MPD spokesperson Lt. Louis Brownlee said.
“It’s a terrible situation for any family to lose a loved one,” he said.
Statewide, 73,568 offenses reported to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation were flagged as domestic violence-related in 2018. That year in Memphis, the police and Shelby County sheriff’s departments implemented a new risk-assessment program, the Lethality Assessment Program, meant to reduce offenses.
Brownlee said police followed the risk-assessment steps in the case and connected Nguyen with an advocate at the Family Safety Center.
Coppage was arrested and charged with first-degree murder Friday. He was also charged with tampering and fabricating evidence in the case.
Memphis homicides:A comprehensive view of killings inside the city
‘We were hoping there was another chance for her’
Nguyen was goofy, her family said, and loved Dixie Queen hot wings, her mother’s cooking, fast cars and video games. She wasn’t shy. Her strength was in placing the problems of others before her own, which she often shielded with lighthearted humor.
“(Her death) is hard and devastating for sure, because she was such a witty and outgoing child,” said Nguyen’s oldest brother, Daniel Nguyen.
Sabrina Nguyen, 18, was killed in one of the first homicides of 2020. In the month before her death, she made several reports to police about escalating threats and violence from her ex-boyfriend, a person of interest in her killing.
By 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, the last time Jimmy Nguyen saw his younger sister, she had reported to police that Coppage had stolen her car and taken her cell phone. She told a friend she was going to meet Coppage, maybe to get her car back, her family said. She asked the friend to call the police, her brother said.
Nhung Nguyen, Sabrina Nguyen’s mother, had a bad feeling when the family got a knock on the door from police two days later, on Jan. 2. They told the family that Nguyen had been found stabbed to death less than a mile from home.
“Me and my dad, we were just in disbelief. We didn’t want to believe it,” Jimmy Nguyen said. “We were hoping there was another chance for her.”
In addition to Sabrina Nguyen’s reports, the Nguyen family estimates that they made more than 200 calls to police in the six months before Sabrina Nguyen died.
The Memphis Police Department handles about 50,000 domestic violence-related calls each year.
Larry Buser, a spokesperson for the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, declined to discuss details of pending cases or charging decisions.
“Procedurally, police investigate, we advise on charges in some cases, and handle cases in court based on investigative reports from police and/or other agencies,” Buser said. He noted that bond is determined by judges or judicial officers, and that domestic violence prosecutors frequently make motions to increase bonds.
Coppage made a $10,000 bond before an arraignment on Dec. 23.
“We were prepared to address the bond issue, but the defendant did not show up in court,” Buser said.
Judge William C. Turner, who presided over Coppage’s cases, did not respond to comment in time for publication of this story.
Tyren Joyner (from left), Kaylon Carpenter and Jimmy Nguyen talk Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, about the late Sabrina Nguyen. She was killed on Jan. 2.
Court documents show Nguyen reported stabbing attempt two weeks before her death
Records show that in December, Nguyen made reports to police that Coppage had called her over 50 times over a three-day span and was continuing to make threats that caused her to fear for her safety.
According to the affidavit, Coppage was identified in six domestic violence reports and a prior arrest for assaulting Nguyen. A warrant was issued for Coppage for harassment.
Nguyen then made an assault report to police four days later, on Dec. 10, and Coppage was arrested on scene.
Nguyen continued to receive harassing phone calls from Coppage, with messages threatening serious harm and death, court documents show.
On Dec. 16, Coppage was charged with aggravated stalking, violation of bail conditions for the earlier harassment charge, aggravated kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault.
He was arrested and released from jail on Dec. 17.
Two days later, Coppage nearly stabbed Nguyen outside 201 Poplar, according to court documents. She was attempting to appear in court for an order of protection against him when he approached her with a knife in his waistband. Coppage threatened to kill Nguyen if she made a commotion, and she was afraid for her life, she told police.
Coppage took Nguyen’s cell phones, forced her into the passenger seat of her vehicle and drove her around for hours before releasing her, court documents show. She reported the incident to police the following day. Coppage was charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated stalking, robbery, aggravated assault and violation of bail conditions.
Later that night, Coppage called Nguyen. Coppage and Nguyen then were gone for nearly four days. Nguyen returned home with short hair and no car.
On. Jan. 2, Nguyen was found dead near her home.
Family and friends gathered at a candlelight vigil for Sabrina Nguyen on Jan. 5. Nguyen was killed in one of the first homicides in 2020.
Coppage was arrested on Jan. 3 by U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force who located him at a home in the 5500 block of Patsy Circle East, the same block of his last known address, court documents show. A press release stated he had warrants for first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.
At the time, Coppage was a person of interest in Nguyen’s homicide, MPD said.
Coppage later admitted to being with Nguyen before and after her death on Jan. 2, court documents show. Coppage described placing her in the trunk of her car, attempting to clean blood and changing out of the clothing he was wearing at the time of her death, documents show.
Coppage said he drove Nguyen in her car to the intersection of Jackson and Maple where police later found her body at 11:40 a.m. on Jan. 2, documents show. He told police he discarded the clothing he was wearing and abandoned Nguyen’s car, court documents show.
Bond in this case was set at $500,000. A video arraignment is scheduled for Monday morning.
Nationally, Tennessee ranks fifth alongside South Carolina for its homicide rate among female victims murdered by males. That rate is 2% in Tennessee compared to 1.29% on average across the United States.
Nguyen’s family and friends want justice for her, but are unsure where to turn, they said.
“She took more than enough steps to be safe and be careful,” said Tyren Joyner, Nguyen’s brother.
Family and friends tried to do the right thing by calling police, he said. The family said they saw police cars patrolling outside their home for the three nights after Nguyen’s death, but never before.
“It’s too late,” Jimmy Nguyen said.
Hai Nguyen talks about his late daughter, Sabrina, on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, at his home in Memphis. Sabrina was killed on Jan. 2. She was 18.
To talk to someone about incidents of domestic violence, call:
The Family Safety Center at 901-222-4400.
National Domestic Violence Hotline to talk to an advocate about domestic violence: 1-800-799-7233.
Shelby County Crime Victims Center, which can help victims get orders of protection: 901-222-3950.
Memphis Police Domestic Violence Unit, which will talk to victims about domestic violence incidents: 901-636-3741
Alexa Imani Spencer covers breaking news for The Commercial Appeal. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-304-9740. Find her on Twitter: @AlexaImani
Laura Testino covers education and children’s issues for The Commercial Appeal. Reach her at email@example.com or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino