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Missing Newton native's body found in Tennessee
Family awaiting Justin Sawyer's return to Covington for burial; three held in alleged murder in Kentucky
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Justin Sawyer and his sister, Jaidyn. - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — A longtime Newton County resident said she “can exhale now” after her son was found recently following his alleged December murder in Kentucky.

Police in Tennessee identified human remains found March 2 in Clarksville as 20-year-old Justin Sawyer, who had been reported missing since Dec. 17, WSMV-TV in Nashville reported.

Sawyer’s mother, Tracy Jackson, told The Covington News the family is waiting on authorities in Tennessee to finish their investigation into his death.

However, Jackson said she knows she wants her son to be buried in his hometown of Covington after a memorial service in Conyers.

She said knowing Sawyer had been found “helps me to breathe.”

“I can exhale,” Jackson said. “I’m beginning to breathe in a different way.”

She said she talked with her son daily before his disappearance, and her daughter would join in on three-way conversations. 

“I can’t call him,” Jackson said.

Sawyer’s father, Rick Sawyer, told WSMV, "This isn't something I would wish on any mom and dad." 

"I don't have words to explain how I feel right now," he said.

Police allege three men abducted Justin Sawyer and shot him to death Dec. 17 in Kentucky.

He had numerous ties to Covington and much of his extended family live here. 

Sawyer was a native of Newton County and attended Livingston Elementary, the Newton County Theme School at Fairview Elementary, Cousins Middle School and Newton High School, his mother said.

He moved with his mother to Clarksville after she took a job in the north Tennessee city and he graduated from Rossview High School in Clarksville, Jackson said.

Clarksville borders the state line with Kentucky and is home to Fort Campbell Army base. 

Sawyer was a business major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga but was taking a semester off, his sister told WXIA-TV in Atlanta. 

He had been working at a number of jobs, including operating a transportation service, before he was reported missing, Jackson said. 

Arrest warrants filed in Christian County, Kentucky, allege that on Dec. 17 Duwaun Davis and Marquell Sims got into the victim’s car to rob him, WSMV reported. 

The warrants stated that Davis shot Sawyer in both legs and a Shell gas station’s surveillance camera and video at an I-24 exit in Oak Grove, Kentucky, showed Davis and Sims putting Sawyer in the car's back seat, WSMV reported. 

A third suspect named Gene Henry then met Davis in Christian County and helped move the victim’s body into the trunk, the TV station reported.

Sawyer was found wearing the red shoes and jean jacket he was last seen in. His body appeared to be burned, his family told the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle newspaper.

A medical examiner identified Sawyer with dental records, the newspaper reported. 

Police arrested Davis, Sims and Henry on charges related to Sawyer’s disappearance.

Sims, 22, and Henry, 36, both of Oak Grove, and Davis, 20, who was in the Christian County Jail, all pleaded not guilty during an arraignment conducted through Zoom March 3 in Christian County, the newspaper reported. Another hearing was scheduled for April.

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From left are Justin's mother, Tracy Jackson; sister, Lauren; Justin and father, Ricky Sawyer, at his graduation from Rossview High School in Clarksville, Tennessee. - photo by Special to The Covington News