They were two 17-year-olds with the rest of their lives ahead of them.
Although they came from different parts of town and never met, Willie E. Brewer III and Tyler Anderson shared many things in common.
Willie was an athlete at Buchtel High. Tyler Anderson was a baseball player who grew up in Kenmore.
Both were popular among their friends. They both loved music. And hundreds attended each teen’s funeral.
Willie and Tyler were among 25 homicide victims killed in Akron in 2012. Their slayings are also among the city’s 11 cases yet to be solved with an arrest. A lack of eyewitnesses willing to come forward is often blamed.
Both Tyler and Willie were killed in their neighborhoods during the sunlight of mid-afternoon.
Willie was outside a Copley Road convenience store on March 30 when he was shot in the torso and hand about 3 p.m. He died later at a hospital.
Tyler had just turned 17 when he was last seen getting inside a car on Kenmore Boulevard about 3 p.m. May 17. His body was later found on 22nd Street. He died of a gunshot wound to the head.
For Tyler’s family, the lack of an arrest has made their grief more difficult.
“I don’t consider this a lack of justice, yet,” said Terri Anderson, 52, the teen’s mother. “I have total confidence in the detectives handling this. I know I have to be patient. But what happened is a shame. To lose a child is absolutely devastating. And to know there’s a person out there with no regard for life, who just took it. That’s beyond anything I can comprehend.”
Police have released surveillance video of a “person of interest” but the teen has not been located. The video can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIDEXf4OUQw&noredirect=1 .
Tyler’s parents were divorced when he was young and Tyler lived in Kenmore with his mother. The kid with bright red hair and blue eyes loved playing Little League baseball and riding his BMX bike. He was into video games and his two dogs. He was a freshman at Digital Academy.
In earlier times, he and his family, including his father, Ken Anderson, attended Akron Bible Church and delivered baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
He was so popular, his family said, that more than 475 attended calling hours before his funeral.
“I never saw so many boys standing at a casket and crying. It affected every single one of them,” said Lee Anderson, the teen’s paternal grandmother.
Terri Anderson said she can sympathize with Willie Brewer’s family, who could not be reached for comment.
“We love our kids, but the streets are too dangerous,” Terri Anderson said. “There’s too many guns on the street. Too much violence.”
Culture of silence
For Akron attorney Ed Gilbert, the killing and other violent crimes in all of Akron’s neighborhoods — and the sure-fire silence that seems to follow — only allow dangerous people to walk free.
One recent example involves the 2011 shooting death of Carmella Holley, 11, who was killed by a stray bullet while watching TV inside a South Akron apartment. In July, Summit County prosecutors dismissed all homicide charges against an Akron man accused in the shooting. Attorneys cited the reluctance of a key witness to testify against the homicide suspect.
So far, no one has been held accountable for the girl’s death.
“To see people walk out of jail who have done horrible things to our communities is simply not fair and it endangers the entire community,” Gilbert said.
Sixteen of Akron’s 25 homicide victims were black males, or about 64 percent. Blacks collectively only comprise about 31 percent of Akron’s population. Of the 11 unsolved cases, nine involve black men.
While drug use and sales are a common thread in most slayings, there is also a dearth of people willing to come forward with information that could help police rid the streets of a deadly menace.
Gilbert, a veteran civil rights attorney, is also president of the Akron-Canton Barristers Association and part of a group of Akron-area leaders who this past fall began hosting Community Witness Safety forums.
Part of their work is the bring solutions to the reluctance of people to come forward in cases such as the slaying of Carmella Holley, Tyler Anderson and Willie Brewer.
“It’s embarrassing that’s what I know,” he said. “We can’t sit around and just ignore that. So, we all to take some responsibility. The fact that [most unsolved crimes involve] minorities is sad. The fact that we allow that to happen, I think, is sad. And I think now is the time for us to really deal with this.”
Just three years ago, police detectives were solving homicides at a 90 percent clip. Last year, the total was about 56 percent, which is closer to the national rate of roughly 60 percent.
At one point in 2009, Akron detectives had closed 35 of 39 of their most recent homicides. The arrests were followed by a 100 percent conviction rate. Of 23 homicides in 2007, 22 were solved. In 2008, 16 homicides resulted in 13 closed cases.
In May, shortly after Willie Brewer’s death and the usual silence of witnesses that followed, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and police Chief James Nice urged greater cooperation from neighborhood residents to speak up and help detectives.
Nice, who is also part of Community Witness Safety forum, said many in the city neighborhoods are afraid to speak up out of fear of retaliation. Other times, witnesses are intimidated, some times on the streets, some times as brazenly as inside courtrooms.
Nice is working with prosecutors and local leaders to find a remedy to the so-called “no snitch rule” that permeates neighborhoods.
In the meantime, he said detectives are close to resolving many of the 11 homicide cases outstanding. At the same time, he said detectives have already solved homicides at a clip near the national rate, despite the silence.
In addition, he said police officers last year seized more than 300 guns from city streets.
“I think the average person understands that if you start ratting out a person that kills people, that’s a risky business to get involved in,” Nice said. “But cooperation in a tight community, it’s there, but it’s not what I would want.”
Range of ages
Last year’s homicide victims in Akron ranged in age from 17-month-old Patrick Lerch, who died after adults around him allowed the toddler to ingest methamphetamine, to Patricia Sees, 72, who was beaten and stabbed to death by her son.
Nice pointed out that Akron’s homicide totals are lessening compared to years ago. Last year, there were 26 homicides. In 2010, there were 22. There were 20 cases in 2009, 16 in 2008, 23 in 2007, 32 in 2006 and 27 in 2005.
The highest figure in recent years was 40 homicides in 1991. The most-recent low figure was in 2001, when Akron had eight homicides.
Gilbert and Nice say they are dedicated to changing the culture of silence into a “if you see something, say something” mantra.
One example came in November, when Akron writer and director Jewelene Banks presented her play, Don’t Give That Boy No Gun, to students at Buchtel High School, where Willie Brewer attended and his mother, Lola, works.
The play was written to help black teens understand their history and the sacrifices blacks have made over time.
Darrita Davis, president of Stop the Violence Akron Movement, said violent crime and the use of guns is rampant. Davis said her group and others in the West Akron community have tried to reach out and educate youth about violence and the toll it takes.
“The message was about educating our young people, reminding them of where they came from and how many fought for their freedom. It’s about how much we are giving up when we commit genocide on each other,” Davis said.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.