Some details emerge, but questions remain in Maggie Valley motel death
More than a week after an unattended death was reported at Maggie Valley’s Our Place Inn, law enforcement officials still haven’t released any details on the incident, but one of the motel’s owners has revealed the identity of the deceased.
Motel owner Cody Currin placed a call to The Smoky Mountain News on Feb. 15, around six hours after unsubstantiated reports of an incident began circulating, saying his wife Catherine Bryanna “Kitty” Currin’s “demons had gotten the best of her,” and that he wanted to clear up rumors that had spread through this small community in the immediate aftermath.
Cody later declined to participate in an interview about his wife’s death, which wouldn’t likely have drawn much attention but for the couple’s highly visible — and highly controversial — advocacy for police reform and unsheltered persons over the past two years.
Now, as some on social media point fingers, others gloat over the death of someone with whom they disagreed politically, leaving a community waiting for answers.
The story goes back to 2016, when Cody acquired the Applecover Inn after being badly burned by a campfire there a few years prior.
The court found that a negligence lawsuit against the owners of the inn was properly served, but the owners never responded to the suit, so a default judgement of $1.5 million was entered on behalf of Cody, who took possession of the inn as satisfaction of the judgement.
Kitty and Cody soon moved in and began operating the rebranded Our Place Inn, but the couple first garnered notice in October 2019 when they established a “little free pantry” on the property.
Basically a walk-in shed, the pantry was stocked with canned goods, non-perishables like rice and pasta, and occasionally fresh vegetables as well as clothing for the needy.
“It’s a small rural town, but because it’s a vacation town there’s a really big wealth inequality gap. We have people that have their second vacation homes here, and we have people that don’t have a home but live here full time,” Kitty told The Smoky Mountain News at the time.
That pantry caught the eye of neighbors, as well as Maggie Valley town government, because it didn’t meet town ordinances for such a structure. Eventually, it was removed from the property in favor of a large travel trailer, however the Currins said they still felt they were being harassed due to their status as young people and newcomers to this tight-knit, tourism-driven community.
The next year, while the nation grappled with the Coronavirus Pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of police, the Currins were at the center of controversy when they played a role in not one but two separate marches through the heart of Maggie Valley.
The first, on July 18, 2020, nearly turned violent, but not due to the actions of the 30 or so demonstrators who showed up in support of BLM; hundreds of counterdemonstrators got wind of the action and lined Soco Road along the planned route of the march, waving “Trump 2020” signs, hurling racial slurs, spitting on marchers and threatening local media.
The few Maggie Valley police officers in attendance were clearly overmatched, and throughout the day officers from the Town of Waynesville as well as Haywood County sheriff’s deputies trickled onto on the scene, trying to help keep the peace — and succeeding.
However, counterdemonstrators weren’t prevented from clogging the parking lot of town hall, from whence the march had commenced. When the march concluded, dozens of angry counterdemonstrators were waiting for the marchers to return and confronted them over several hours, leading to ugly exchanges and law enforcement officers standing between the two groups to prevent physical contact.
Representatives from the march said that due to the visceral reaction they’d provoked, they’d be back again in the coming weeks, prompting an outcry from merchants who complained that the march had disrupted commerce and cast the town in a negative light.
Maggie Valley government responded to the harrowing events of July 18 by holding a special meeting on July 30, during which Mayor Mike Eveland said that the march was “chaotic and grossly confrontational.”
A series of unconstitutional measures proposed by members of the public — meant to tamp down on protests — were rejected by town attorney Craig Justus. Several public safety-oriented restrictions were enacted by unanimous vote of the board of aldermen restricting the size, shape and materials that can be used for signs and flagpoles.
Kitty Currin walked into the special meeting and lauded the police, telling aldermen that police “ … need tools to keep the peace, and this [restriction] is a tool to help them keep the peace.”
The second march, which took place two days after the town meeting, was bigger and louder than the previous march, but was far less chaotic and confrontational because one lane on Soco Road was closed to traffic, providing more distance between opposing camps.
The Currins’ motel served as an unofficial base for pro-BLM demonstrators during both events. No arrests or injuries were observed during either protest; however, it wouldn’t be long before Kitty went from lauding law enforcement in a town meeting to loathing them in an even more tangible way.
Almost a year later, the Currins found themselves at the center of a bigger controversy when in early May they used the marquee out in front of their business to advance a vulgar, sweeping generalization of law enforcement officers — the acronym “ACAB.”
“ACAB, referring to the slogan ‘All Cops Are Bastards,’” Kitty told National Public Radio on May 29, 2021. “Do I believe that every single individual cop as a person is a bastard? I don’t believe in judging the individuals themselves. They might be perfectly fine individuals, but once they put on that uniform, they’re not just an individual. They are representative of a system that is faulty.”
Cody echoed his wife’s sentiments.
“When one police officer abuses authority or misuses the trust of the community and a 99 other police officers don’t stick up or say anything about it, then in my opinion, all 100 are responsible for the misuse of authority,” he said.
The marquee message came at a time when a national conversation over police reform was taking place, but some in the community thought it was a step too far; it prompted outrage across Haywood County as well as messages of support for law enforcement on business marquees in Canton, Clyde and Waynesville, as well as in the valley.
It also prompted violent threats to the Currins’ personal and professional social media accounts, including one in particular that Kitty shared with The Smoky Mountain News at the time:
You’re f—-ing dead. I see that you posted ‘ACAB’ on your advertising billboard. Well, I for one hope you have someone rob you at gunpoint, rape your women, beat the hell out of any kids you have and then shoot your idiot ass and not one of those police ‘bastards’ you hate does a thing to protect your sorry ass.
After receiving an anonymous tip, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Charlotte field office visited the Currins to discuss the threats, out of an abundance of caution.
In response to the sign, a large and peaceful “Back the Blue” picnic was held by private parties in a public park just a few weeks after the message first appeared, and just a few hundred feet from the Our Place Inn.
“The purpose of today is not political in any way,” organizer Steven Rich told the crowd. “The purpose of today is not to walk down the sidewalk to that hotel and wave flags. It’s not about them. We don’t need to respond to them, they have enough problems of their own.”
At the same time, the Currins held a small, uneventful gathering of their own at Our Place Inn.
The “ACAB” message on the Currins’ motel, and variations of it, remained throughout the rest of 2021 and into 2022, but as of Feb. 16 – the day after police showed up to investigate the death – the marquee stood blank.
Throughout the period of their advocacy the Currins complained repeatedly about what they felt was increasing scrutiny, both from law enforcement and from the community at large.
There was another zoning dispute of sorts, over a compost heap, in which the Currins were issued a ticket, and there was also what Kitty said was a confrontational encounter with officers of the Maggie Valley Police Department that she said she’d recorded.
In the intervening months, Kitty and Cody again found themselves in the public eye when it was revealed that the Town of Waynesville’s new policy of funding overnight motel stays for unhoused persons involved Our Place Inn.
The policy, and the payments to Our Place Inn in particular, drew regular and vehement opposition from a small but vocal minority of citizens during recent Waynesville public comment sessions.
In mentioning his wife’s so-called “demons,” Cody did say that Kitty had been diagnosed with mental illness, but he also mentioned the relentless threats and ridicule the couple endured.
Facebook posts on a local blog reporting the unattended death say that “God handled it,” while suggesting that police should just “bag and tag the body and move on” and that the Currins had “earned” every nasty comment made against them.
At the time of his call to The Smoky Mountain News, Cody didn’t confirm that Kitty had died by her own hand; however, a Feb. 17 press release from Maggie Valley Police Chief Russ Gilliland said that the department “does not believe there is a threat to the community from this incident.”
What the press release didn’t say was that the State Bureau of Investigation had since become involved with the investigation. Gilliland confirmed on Feb. 18 that the SBI was there to assist, and that the SBI has forensic capabilities beyond those of the Maggie Valley Police Department.
The release also didn’t name the victim or indicate a manner of death, be it natural, suicide, homicide or misadventure.
“We know the public want to know more, which is why we are moving quickly to gather facts,” Gilliland wrote in the release. “The most professional response is to take time to thoroughly investigate this incident.”
A message left for Cody Currin on Feb. 21 was returned by Waynesville attorney Josh Nielsen, who said he’d advised Cody not to speak on the matter until the investigation had concluded. Nielsen said it was his first time representing Currin, who’s appeared in court numerous times over small civil matters.
Chief Gilliland and the SBI confirmed that when official details of the Feb. 15 incident at Our Place Inn are released, they’ll come from the Maggie Valley Police Department.
Leave a comment
I’ve been trying to follow this story. I’m from a small town similar to Maggie Valley. Not only do I agree with the Currins sentiment on Cops, they are 100% right. I know this to be fact because I am a former LEO. I saw corruption, plain ignorance, and racism throughout my department and other departments I have worked with. I see some of the comments are from conservatives and like a lot of similar posts, they aren’t based in fact nor do they know what they are talking about. Why small towns like this continue to vote for “traditional values” code for we wish black people knew their place like they did in the 30’s, is beyond me. They stay poor, lack quality education, and believe any pile of manure if it comes out of a fellow bigots Mouth like Trump. I’ll pray for them, but Christ wasn’t a fan either.
The currins embodied Matthew 25:35-40. You bigots ought to read Matthew 25:41-46
Maggie Valley has gone to the trump cult. They should all be ashamed of themselves. Won't be back.
Unfortunately many liberal extremists have mental health issues.
I'm so sorry Kitty. You didn't deserve this. Their website and Facebook pages are gone and I'm just confused and sad. She was a wonderful person.
I can't believe I wanted to move here. That such a community exists, unable to have different points of view or any open-mindedness. It's a tragedy.
Those who heckled and threatened should be ashamed of themselves, and those of you who stood by and let it happen should be ashamed as well. No one wants to bring business to a community like that.
Maggie Valley is full of Patriots
I didn't agree with her views on the police. However, it saddens me when anyone dies in this way. I only hope and pray that she made her peace with God before this.
Rest in power, Kitty. Hate what you endured from the spiteful and ignorant. May your insight and courage inspire others.
Drove though Maggie the other month for the last time ever. Rebel flags and Lets Go Brandon crap everywhere. You can have it. The literal definition of a sh!thole.
Sorry Sharon, but there is nothing controversial about a sign that says 'Lets Go Brandon'.
The situation is and has been tragic for a long time. May God rest her soul where the Light of His countenance shines. I especially appreciate Mr. Vaillancourt's clear and factual reporting. I hope and truly suggest that he continue the story.
All controversial signs at businesses should be banned in Maggie Valley, including the ones that say "Let's Go Brandon"....