Mason Thompson (l) and Willie Collins
Kenneth Piper and Heather Fernandez
CANTON, Ga. -- A young mother and her two small children can thank the power and speed of "social media."
And they can thank law officers and many, many tipsters.
Emily McCoy, 23, was beaten and robbed during a home invasion Monday night in Cherokee County.
Wednesday just before noon, surveillance video of four people possibly connected to the crime was released by the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office.
The video spread quickly across social media sites.
In a flash -- "We got a lot of phone calls identifying who was in the images," Lt. Jay Baker said.
In fact, so many people called the Sheriff's office so quickly that by the end of the day, all four people were in custody, being questioned.
Thursday morning, Baker released the names of the four suspects: 26-year-old Kenneth Piper, 26-year-old Willie Collins, 27-year-old Heather Fernandez and 27-year-old Mason Thompson, all of Canton.
The video shows four, happy-looking shoppers -- three men and a woman -- smiling and fist-bumping as they walk out of the Canton Walmart, eight miles from Emily McCoy's home. They are leaving with a cart-load of merchandise that they had just bought. Investigators believe they paid for the merchandise using Emily McCoy's debit card, which had been stolen from her at gunpoint during the home invasion.
She told investigators that three men, wearing bandanas over their faces, stormed into her mobile home at 11 p.m.
She said one held a gun on her and the other two carried baseball bats, and one of them struck her in front of her children, ages five and six.
Then, she said, they stole her purse containing a "substantial" amount of cash along with her debit card.
The Walmart video was recorded at 1 a.m. Tuesday, two hours later.
Lt. Baker said it is likely that the suspects targeted McCoy and her husband -- who was on his way home after visiting a neighbor that night -- knowing, somehow, that the couple had just come into some money, and that they had the cash at home.
They live in a remote, heavily wooded and sparsely populated area of the county, northwest of Canton.
"By all accounts, it appears these victims legally came into this money," Baker said. "It would be highly unlikely that these suspects just randomly chose this location to go into, and they were so specific about what they wanted. And they found the items and left. So it appears that someone had advised the suspects or given them information that there was something at this house that they wanted."
Of course, Baker said, if the suspects did have the victim's cash with them, and if they had paid for the merchandise with her cash -- instead of with her debit card as investigators believe they did -- then investigators never would have gotten a hit on her debit card and never would have known to examine the Walmart video. The suspects might have slipped away -- unnoticed by cameras, and by social media, and by all their acquaintances who were so quick to turn them in.
"We don't know at this moment if [any of] the four individuals in that video are actual suspects that went into that home," Baker said Wednesday. "That's what investigators are trying to iron out right now."
On Thursday, when Baker released the names of the four suspects, he said that the many tips led investigators to them at an apartment in a complex in Canton.
"A search warrant at the apartment yielded the victim's purse, a 9mm handgun and three red bandanas believed to be used in the robbery," Baker said. "Investigators also found receipts where the suspects had used the victim's debit card at other businesses in Canton. The cash stolen in the robbery has not been recovered.... Investigators are still attempting to determine why the suspects chose to rob the specific location on Rampley Trail. Additional charges are likely and more arrests are possible."
The initial charges against the four suspects are armed robbery and financial transaction fraud. There were being held without bond in the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center, according to Baker.
Baker said that according to McCoy, the three masked men who attacked her are black. The Walmart video shows two black men, a white man and a white woman.
Baker said that if the two black men in the video are Collins and Thompson (with Piper and Fernandez being possible accomplices) then one of the suspects remained, as of late Wednesday, unseen and unidentified.
The four suspects who have been arrested are being held without bond in the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center, according to Baker. They have been charged with armed robbery and financial transaction fraud.