Domestic violence and abusive relationships are issues that affect thousands of people across the globe. We’ve all heard the statistics, but it’s important to remember that each of these victims has a name and a story. Let’s talk about Tynesha Stewart, who was in a toxic relationship that ended in tragedy.
Tynesha DeVonna Stewart was born on July 10, 1987, one of five siblings. Unfortunately, Tynesha’s father died when she was just six years old. Her mom, Gale, eventually married a man named Preston Shields — Tynesha’s stepfather.
Tynesha was described by her loved ones as ambitious and tenacious, never sitting around waiting for things to happen but going after what she wanted. Her mom said she was a girly girl and preferred to stay indoors.
In high school, Tynesha was an honor student and managed the basketball team. When she was asked why she chose to be the manager and not play on the team, she said it was because she didn’t like to sweat.
During her junior year, 16-year-old Tynesha was working at a local Pizza Hut when she met Timothy Shepherd, her co-worker who was nine years her senior. Despite the age difference, the two quickly began a relationship. Tynesha lied to her parents about how old her new boyfriend was, and the family did like him…at first.
According to Tynesha’s family and friends, her relationship with Timothy was extremely toxic. He was jealous, possessive and controlling. She told her siblings that Timothy had threatened her, and one of her sisters reported seeing him physically abuse her. There was one particular incident where Tynesha was at Timothy’s apartment and he refused to let her leave. He also reportedly cut her off from a lot of her loved ones.
And the consequences of this abuse didn’t go unnoticed. Tynesha’s mom, Gale Shields, thought her daughter seemed depressed and was getting a lot of phone calls. She thought Tynesha might be working too hard and suggested she cut her hours at Pizza Hut. Other loved ones noted bruises on Tynesha’s body.
Despite everything going on in her life, Tynesha insisted everything was fine. She graduated high school in the top ten percent of her class and was awarded multiple scholarships to Texas A&M University in College Station, about 90 miles north of her hometown of Houston. She enrolled at Texas A&M, where she studied civil and chemical engineering. In the fall of 2006 (which I believe was the start of her freshman year), she and Timothy Shepherd ended their relationship. After the breakup, Timothy got back together with an old girlfriend of his (who was also the mother of his child).
But even after Timothy and Tynesha broke up, contact didn’t stop. Timothy would follow and constantly call Tynesha at college, even contacting her roommate and friends when he couldn’t reach her. By Christmas, they were back together — but broke off their relationship again in January of 2007. By February, Tynesha was seeing someone new.
In March of 2007, 19-year-old Tynesha, like many other college students, was planning on going home for spring break. She was initially afraid to go, knowing Timothy would continue to follow her, but ultimately decided to head back to Houston and spend time with her friends.
On Thursday, March 15, 2007, Tynesha visited a friend and left her phone behind at the friend’s house. She said she’d be back to get it later. Around noon, Tynesha talked to her sister. Then, between 3 and 4 am, Tynesha was spotted leaving Timothy Shepherd’s apartment. She hasn’t been seen since.
When Tynesha didn’t come home, Gale Shields went to Timothy’s apartment to ask him what was going on with her daughter. Timothy told her they’d gotten into an argument and she had angrily walked off. Gale knew something was wrong right away. According to her, Tynesha “wouldn't even walk across the street.” The following Monday, March 19, she reported Tynesha missing. After Tynesha disappeared, all of Timothy’s phone calls stopped.
The day Tynesha was reported missing, investigators interviewed Timothy Shepherd. He told police he’d last seen Tynesha at his apartment between 3 and 4 am the day she went missing, and that they’d had an argument and she stormed out angrily. But his neighbors would soon reveal information that painted a very different picture.
18-year-old James Hebert lived next door to Timothy and even left his grill at Timothy’s apartment because the two barbecued together so frequently. According to him, Timothy grilled nonstop for two days after Tynesha’s disappearance, both on his own grill and on James’s. When James asked his neighbor what he was doing, Timothy said he was grilling food for a wedding. Other neighbors reported a horrible smell, thick smoke in the area and Timothy’s refusal let anyone inside his apartment. Despite the cool temperature outside, his windows were constantly open during this time period, and the fan and air conditioner were always on. His bathtub ran continuously for two days and his disposal would run for several minutes at a time.
On the evening of March 16, the flames from Timothy’s grill were so high they almost touched the ceiling. Afraid the building was on fire, a neighbor called 911. When police and firefighters arrived on the scene, Timothy assured them everything was fine, but they went inside.
Inside, firefighters reported seeing meat in the bathtub that resembled ribs. Bone and tooth fragments were found in the disposal and on the patio — about 30 fragments in total. All were very small, and investigators initially believed they wouldn’t be able to get DNA samples from them or even determine if they were human.
Later searches would reveal Timothy’s apartment had recently been cleaned with ammonia and bleach and parts of it were freshly painted. Traces of blood were found on the bathroom light switch, tub and toilet. A few days after these searches, both Timothy’s and James Hebert’s grills had been thrown out.
On March 21, Timothy contacted a man named Quanell X, the leader of Houston’s Black Panther party. Quanell X is a controversial figure; he has been criticized for being confrontational, and he’s clashed with police in the past. But investigators were later grateful to him for his help in this case. On March 22, Timothy confessed to Quanell X that he’d killed Tynesha and put her body in a dumpster.
Timothy then contacted police, who searched the dumpster he said he’d put her body in. The dumpster had already been emptied multiple times so nothing was found inside. But when blood was found on the dumpster, Timothy Shepherd was arrested and charged with murder.
At first, police were reluctant to search for Tynesha’s remains. If Timothy really had put her body in a dumpster, the odds of finding her were low. But after pressure from Tynesha’s loved ones and community members, they started looking.
On March 20, Sheriff’s deputies and members of the group Texas EqquSearch looked in the woods around Timothy’s apartment. Dogs traced Tynesha’s scent to a nearby lake, which was searched by divers but nothing was found. A garbage truck and 40,000 tons of garbage in a nearby landfill were also searched, but these searches also turned dup nothing.
Tynesha’s family and friends had also been looking for her since she’d gone missing. According to them, Timothy Shepherd did not participate in the searches.
The official search was called off just four days after it had started. The Harris County Sheriff announced at a press conference that, based on more information uncovered in their investigation, Tynesha’s body had been dismembered and burned. Therefore, there probably wasn’t a body that could be recovered.
Timothy Shepherd went on trial in September 2008. He faced life in prison.
At the trial, DNA experts identified a tooth fragment found in Timothy’s apartment as belonging to Tynesha. The medical examiner later said she couldn’t actually determine whether the bone fragment was actually human. But prosecutor Marie Primm later told jurors: “People do not dismember and dispose of bodies unless they have a reason.”
A few months after Tynesha’s murder, Gale Shields talked to a group of parents and teenagers at her daughter’s old high school. She said if a parent believes their child is the victim of abuse, they should stop worrying about the child’s privacy and “find out what’s going on.” She also said people in abusive relationships shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help and make sure their significant other respects them. Gale also said the following concerning the situation:
“For some reason, I know Tynesha is smiling down on this forum because her death would not be in vain. I feel like this is going to help someone.”