It’s been nearly seven years since 13-year-old Isaiah Brooks left his home in the LaDeara Crest community to go to the candy store and never returned.
The body of the boy, who was known for his playful nature and infectious smile, was found in the driveway of a house on Machine Street, not far from where he lived. He had been shot. Though he was killed in the early evening hours in a populated area, no leads have led to an arrest, a fact that torments his mother, Barbara Stephenson and her seven other children.
I will forgive, but I will never forget, because this was a child, not only a child but a baby, and I don’t have any answers.
“The last couple years, it’s been hard on me because I have flashbacks of him. Just looking up and praying to God, I haven’t gotten any answers,” Stephenson said. “…I just wish that somebody would come forward and talk and just let me know why did they have to take his life? What did he do to them? I will forgive, but I will never forget, because this was a child, not only a child but a baby, and I don’t have any answers.”
Tawanda Fulwood, Isaiah’s older sister, has spearheaded several efforts to keep her brother’s case fresh. The family has held a community vigil, a book giveaway, and this past August organized a neighborhood canvas of the area where Isaiah was killed, all to no avail. Fulwood, a Novant Health employee, said she remains hopeful that his murderer will someday be brought to justice.
“I am (optimistic). I will always be,” declared the mother of four, who added that the reward for information leading to an arrest in her brother’s case will be increased from $2,000 to $7,000 later this year. “I’ll never lose hope, nor faith.”
Still, Isaiah’s void is felt deeply within the family, and watching the years pass by with no new developments in his case is frustrating, Fulwood said.
Men of color represent the highest rate of unsolved homicide victims in Winston-Salem, a statistic that is played out in countless communities nationwide. Eleven of the 28 unsolved homicides that have occurred in the city since Jan. 1, 2002 have been African American males, and 13 have been Hispanic men. The Winston-Salem Police Department’s Cold Case Homicide Unit handles most homicide cases that are more than three years old, explained Lt. Robert Cozart, head of the homicide division. Cold case detectives review the cases, write a summary of the information police have gathered, including possible suspects and any forensic evidence that is found and check for any discrepancies, details that may have been overlooked or evidence that might still be outstanding, Cozart explained. The detectives determine how to proceed based on those findings, he said. The Department periodically profiles unsolved cases on its Web site in hopes of generating new leads, he added.
“We want (victims’ families) to know that the case is still out there. We haven’t given up on it. We’re still willing and able to pursue it if the right information comes in,” he said. “…In most of these cases, there’s somebody out there who knows what happened. It’s just whether or not they’re going to grow enough of a conscience to let you know.”
Police have managed to make arrests in cold case homicides in recent years. Just last month, Michael Dwayne Miller pleaded guilty to the August 1990 rape and murder of 74-year-old Thressa Nicholson. Arrests were made in 2009 in connection with the murders of Sharon Arnette Snow and Ansel John Rakestraw, both of whom were killed in 2004, and in 2008 in connection with the murder of Cyrenius Tyree Fulks, who was killed in 2006.
The family of Yvonne Martin is hoping that her killer is soon apprehended as well. Martin, a mother and grandmother, was discovered in a vacant rental property in September 2009. She was conscious but had been beaten badly, with every bone in her back broken, according to her mother, Mary Davis. The family later learned that the beating may have taken place as many as three days earlier, Davis said. Martin died hours after her discovery; her last words were a whispered “I love you” to her brothers.
Davis, a retired R.J. Reynolds employee, said her daughter’s gregarious personality and unflinching vitality made her one of a kind.
“Yvonne was a happy person, very friendly, very easy to trust. She never met a stranger. She just kind of talked to people. She was very outgoing,” she said. “…Whoever did it didn’t know her and because they didn’t know her, they could beat her, because if you knew her you would’ve loved her regardless, because of her personality.”
Martin had grappled with drug addiction for most of her adult life, and had relapsed only months before her death, after several years of sobriety. She had just completed her CNA certification at Forsyth Tech, Davis said. Martin’s family is haunted by the knowledge that her murderer has not been apprehended.
Yvonne’s brother, Carl Martin, said he still struggles to cope with the tragedy.
“You have to keep moving because if you don’t, it’ll consume you,” said Martin, a security guard and father of two. “I think about my sister everyday, just the camaraderie when she came around. She was cool people.”
Martin said the family is still hopeful that his sister’s case will someday be solved.
“We all look for justice and that’s where I’m at on this whole deal,” he said. “I’d like to see justice and closure on this whole situation.”
The Winston-Salem CrimeStoppers program offers rewards up to $2,000 leading to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for a homicide that occurs within the city limits of Winston-Salem. Please visit the Winston-Salem CrimeStoppers site for further information on that program. Any additional rewards will be coordinated through that program. CrimeStoppers can be reached at (336) 727-2800 or the Spanish line at (336) 728-3904.