Given the chance, LaRhonda Nelson wouldn’t say a word to the person who shot her adult son dead and nearly killed her 3-year-old grandson.
“I wouldn’t want to say anything to him,” she said Wednesday. “I would just want him to be punished.”
The killing of Nelson’s son, Robert Lee White Jr., was one of several open 2017 homicide cases featured in a press conference Wednesday jointly held by St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelley, Illinois State Police and East St. Louis police and government officials.
Kelly urged anyone with even the smallest piece of information to come forward, saying that it may seem like nothing but it could be what police need to solve the case.
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“Here we are at the end of the year, where people are spending time with their family, their loved ones, and there are folks that are part of the East St. Louis community and the surrounding area who do not have a loved one with them at these holiday times because that loved one has been lost to violence,” Kelly said.
Officials acknowledged the fear of retaliation people feel when coming forward to police with information. But Kelly said those testimonies are crucial, and that rarely is a case built solely on surveillance footage or forensic evidence.
“Our goal is to hold the offenders responsible for their actions and provide justice for the victims and their families,” Illinois State Police Capt. William Sons said. “We are here today to ask members of the community to step forward and provide information they may have about these unsolved homicides.”
Illinois State Police Sgt. Elbert Jennings also spoke, saying he lost his brother in 1999 to violence in East St. Louis — a killing that remains unsolved. He said he still believes there are people who know what happened to his brother, and he knows there are people who know what happened in these 2017 cases.
“I want to thank these victims’ families for being courageous enough to come here to stand on behalf of your loved ones,” Jennings said. “I know it takes courage to do such a thing; it’s almost like you’re reliving that moment again. I just want to say, on the side of law enforcement, we do thank you for taking this step forward to come and be with us as we ask for the public’s help in solving these cases.”
Nelson’s son, White, was holding his 2-year-old in a car late on the night of Oct. 4 in East St. Louis when a gunman opened fire on them, killing him and wounding the toddler.
“He’s doing great; he’s running around and doing everything,” Nelson said of her 3-year-old grandson, who survived. “When I got the call, they told me both of them were dead; I’m glad he was OK.”
Nelson has now lost two sons to violence in two years. Her 17-year-old son, Anton Mannis, was shot dead in St. Louis in September 2015, she said. His killer was never caught.
These are the open cases mentioned Wednesday:
▪ Maurice L. Cotton, 20, and Nathaniel A. Shuryn, 18, were fatally shot March 12 inside a vehicle in the 5300 block of State Street.
▪ Moeshia January, 19, was shot and killed Sept. 15 in her home in the 1400 block of N. 48th Street.
▪ Quiantez Fair, 28, was shot and killed Nov. 2 in a backyard in the 700 block of N. 84th Street.
▪ Larry Hardy Jr. was shot to death Sept. 4 in a vehicle 800 block of Success Court. Kentrez T. Williams, 21, was also shot and killed.
▪ Kaylen A. Everson, 26, was shot to death Nov. 24 in a field in the 700 block of Alhambra Court.
▪ Robert Lee White, 25, was shot to death Oct. 4 at an intersection on Riverpark Drive near the Eads Bridge. His toddler was shot while sitting in his lap, but survived the attack.
Authorities said these cases were not necessarily connected nor did they fit into a specific trend. Kelly did note that a lot of the violence is perpetrated against young men, and police are aware of “hot spots” in East St. Louis where violent crimes are more likely to occur.
Illinois State Police have assisted East St. Louis and the surrounding areas with 206 homicide cases since 2010. On Wednesday, they reported 28 percent of those killings have been solved.
This year, East St. Louis has had 34 homicides, authorities said. That compares to 27 homicides in 2016 and 19 in 2015.
Police remain hopeful that people will step forward and bring closure to the victims’ families facing their first holiday season without their loved ones.
“Nothing is the same, it’s just different,” Nelson said of the impact of White’s killing. “Holidays aren’t the same, nothing. I just feel lost, hurt. Everyone is hurting. My mother has been in bed since it happened.”
Anyone with information about the above cases can contact CrimeStoppers at 877-371-8477. Tipsters may remain anonymous.