Washington Post

The family of a pregnant young North Carolina woman, who was killed by a single shot to the face, say she was executed by her violent boyfriend because she refused to abort his baby. Candace Pickens, 23, was found dead in a park in Asheville, with her unresponsive 3-year-old toddler son, Zachaeus Waters, critically injured with a gunshot wound to the head found lying next to her on Wednesday 11 May.

Police had responded around seven hours earlier to a report of gunshots nearby, but failed to find Pickens and her son until the mother's body was found by a jogger, according to the Citizen-Times.

Zachaeus was rushed to hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery and lost his left eye. He is in stable but critical condition, police have said.

Pickens' boyfriend, Nathaniel Elijah Dixon, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury — and first-degree murder of an unborn child.

He is awaiting extradition from Ohio back to North Carolina, from where he fled after Pickens was killed. Dixon has a violent history that includes attempted robbery and allegations of domestic violence against another woman with whom he had a child, police said.

Pickens' family says Dixon killed her because she refused to have an abortion against his wishes.

"He found out she was pregnant and he wanted her to abort the baby," Irene Jenny Pickens told the Washington Post. "She would never do that. It wasn't an option for her, and that's what sparked the violence.. You could tell things were going on between them ... but I don't think anyone expected anything like this."

Pickens was described as an open-hearted, generous woman who loved being a mother, recently celebrating Zachaeus' birthday having just turned three-years-old.

"My son didn't deserve this and neither did Candace," said Zachaeus' father, Daquan Waters, who shared custody of the little boy. "She gave her laughs to people and was always helping others.She didn't want to say no to anyone.

"We had a big weekend planned," Waters told the Citizen-Times. "He was so excited to go to the zoo and the aquarium."

A memorial was held for her at Asheville's Hill Street Baptist Church.

"It is time for us to come together to grieve the loss of a special, young mother," vigil organisers said in a statement. "To support the mothers of our community, especially the single mothers. To stand together in defiance of violence."