Standing in the dirt beneath a highway overpass in Charleston where a 15-year-old boy's life ran out, tearful family members and grim-faced local officials called upon local residents Wednesday to step up and tell what they know about the killing.
To offer tips
To report information about the shooting death of Jermel Brown, call Charleston police at 577-7434 or Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.
"We beg and plead that someone comes forward," said Angela Wright, an aunt of homicide victim Jermel Brown. "He, a child of God, did not deserve to get killed."
Brown's body was found about 8 a.m. Tuesday off Huger Street. The Daniel Jenkins Academy student had been shot multiple times.
On Wednesday, as cars rumbled overhead on Interstate 26, some of those gathered beneath the overpass who had known Brown described a cheerful boy, not yet old enough to drive, who participated in mentoring programs and often brought a smile to those around him.
"Jermel was one of the main reasons I liked going to my job," said Linda Allen, an intervention specialist at the school. "He made me laugh more than anybody else, and I'm really going to miss him."
If police have determined any motive for the killing, they aren't saying, but it was clear they need more information.
"Someone saw him get into a car, and we need those people to contact our detectives," said Police Chief Greg Mullen. "This young man did not need to die like he did. Someone in our community needs to pay for that."
City Councilman Robert Mitchell said that if people are afraid to call the police or Crime Stoppers, they can look him up in the phone book and call him personally.
Brown lived with his mother and siblings on America Street at Cooper River Courts, a public housing complex on Charleston's East Side.
"He was such a sweet boy," Wright said. "If you were having a bad day, he'd make it a good day."
Mullen has offered no details about where, or when, police believe Brown was seen getting into a vehicle.
Community leaders, City Council members, Mayor Joe Riley and state Rep. Wendell Gilliard were among those calling for local residents to help the police solve Brown's killing and also the killings Sunday evening of Johnny and Betty Vice.
The Vices, a local couple in their 60s, died when a car full of men fleeing from the police crashed into their vehicle at Ashley Avenue and Moultrie Street.
Three men fled the scene, and the driver is believed to have made his escape in a recent model Ford Expedition or Cadillac Escalade.
"This man (Brown) could be anybody's brother or friend," Gilliard said "The other day, a couple was just driving in their car, and they are here no longer."
Riley said the police will not rest until the killers are brought to justice, and used the occasion to renew his call for the General Assembly to pass a series of criminal justice reforms he has repeatedly called for, involving tougher sentences and conditions for bail and probation.
The mayor said he will show Brown's photograph to the next lawmaker who offers excuses for not approving the proposed laws. He also urged those with "any shred of information" about the killings to come forward and help.
"The way we make our communities strong is by not tolerating illegal and violent activity," Riley said.
City Councilman Jimmy Gallant, a minister and the city police chaplain, said he knew Brown through a mentoring program he's involved with and first met him when the boy was 10 years old.
"He was a fabulous young man," Gallant said. "I don't know why someone would bring him to a place like this and take his life."