Delialah “Dee” Rollins tried last week to attend the funeral of the two teens killed in the New Year’s Eve shooting spree in Barberton.
She pulled into the nearly full parking lot of Apostolic Church and soon was overcome with an avalanche of emotions, ranging from deep empathy for the grieving mother of Ashley Carpenter and David Carpenter-Kohler to her own vivid memory: finding her murdered mother and later seeing her body at the funeral home.
Her thoughts spiraled to the safety of her own two children — and herself — until she was so distraught that she could not get out of her car.
“It hit home,” said Rollins, 31, whose mother, Michelli “Mickey” Wilson, 37, and her mother’s boyfriend, Edward Rhodes, 30, were killed on Mother’s Day in Barberton in May 2000. “I could just picture my mom laying there in the casket.”
Rollins briefly drove away from the church, then tried to gather herself. She returned one more time but still could not find the strength to exit the car and go inside.
She regrets not being able to share a moment with the teens’ mother, Leiha Carpenter.
“I felt so bad for that mom,” Rollins said. “That mom needed a hug.”
Rollins, a Barberton High School graduate, described herself as thrilled and relieved that two suspects have been charged with the killing spree that also claimed 42-year-old John Kohler, but also frustrated that her mother’s case remains unsolved.
She lives daily with the hope that someone can help solve the murders.
And the slaying of Rollins’ mother wasn’t even the first violent death in her family. Her father, Samson Rollins, 24, was shot to death on Father’s Day in June 1987 in Barberton.
One of his friends, Ronald Brandt, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to serve 13 to 25 years in prison. He died in October 1991 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville of natural causes.
Rollins said she was inside the house as a 4-year-old when her father was slain. She remembers very little.
“Me and my brother were underneath the kitchen table,” she said of the vague memory from nearly 27 years ago.
She found the bodies of her mother and her boyfriend in 2000 when she stopped by their Barberton home to wish her mom a happy Mother’s Day.
Rollins said her mother “was great. She worked three jobs.”
Linda Adkins, Michelli Wilson’s best friend, said the woman did everything with gusto.
“Everybody loved her,” said Adkins, who still carries a piece of metal inscribed with “Mickey” on it that Wilson made.
Now a mother of two, Rollins works full time at an area fast-food outlet, something she has done at several restaurants since she was 16 years old. Her children know that the losses she has endured have taken a toll on her.
“You are sad, mom,” her daughter often says.
Rollins has never been through counseling and says she probably suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
She said she stays strong — “I’m a tough cookie” — but she keeps most people at arm’s length.
“You just put up a shield, I guess,” Rollins said. “I don’t let people get too close.”
Rollins keeps a large, three-ring binder stuffed with news stories and photographs of her parents and her family.
“I want it solved,” she said of the murders. “It’s not right for my kids not to have a grandma.”
Michelli Wilson is buried at Hillside Memorial Park on Canton Road next to her husband. Rollins said there is no headstone on her mother’s grave because she has not been able to afford a marker.
Barberton Police spokesman Marty Eberhart said the department followed up on leads at the time of the killings but none proved to be productive. He said police encourage anyone with information to step forward.
To report any information about the slayings of Michelli Wilson or Edward Rhodes, call Barberton detectives at 330-848-6709 or at 330-745-2181.
Rollins said an arrest and conviction finally would give her closure.
“My kids would know that I am not sad anymore,” she said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.