Before he was killed — shot dead at the age of 31 Friday morning in Northeast Kansas City — John Owens Jr. had come to rallies like this one on the Plaza Saturday.
The connections between families and neighborhoods in Kansas City’s terrifying year of killings “makes you numb,” said Owens’ cousin, Alice Coppage.
She thumbed through her phone to find the picture of Owens from earlier this year when he held up a sign seeking justice in the killing of his younger cousins — Montell Ross, 8, and Jayden Ugwuh, 9 — two boys killed while playing video games in 2016 when a house was strafed with bullets.
Owens, who was known as “Bam Bam” because he like to turn everything into drums when he was a child, was homicide No. 118 of the 121 counted in Kansas City in 2017.
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Another relative, Lester Davis, was homicide No. 105, shot in south Kansas City Sept. 4.
Owens’ family also is connected with Carrie Blewett, homicide No. 88, who had been missing for three weeks before her body was found.
Those families were joined at the J.C. Nichols Fountain with Melva Ward, the mother of De’Anthoni Lee Sanders, who was stabbed to death in the fall of 2016.
One thing all of these murders have in common: They are all unsolved.
The toll is tearing families apart.
“The hardest part is living every day without him,” Ward said in tears. “My 8-year-old daughter wants her brother back. My older son is a wreck. … It was intentionally done. He was stabbed several times. You intentionally killed my son! You didn’t have to do that!”
The crowd of mourners and supporters echoed bullhorn chants at the cars and people passing by, crying out for people to remember these deaths and to help police pursue arrests.
“If you see it, say it! If you saw it, tell it!”
They agonize knowing witnesses aren’t revealing what they know and wither at the slow pace of police investigations — with five more homicides fallen on the city just since Wednesday.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Alissa Henderson, a co-founder of Hearts Infinity, which organizes the Justice Kansas City rallies. “We’re here for the families in the aftermath. We give the deceased person a voice and the families a platform.”
The police are asking the public’s assistance in these and other investigations, asking people to call the TIPS hotline 816-474-TIPS (8477).
Henderson urged people with any information at all to call, or if they were uncomfortable with the TIPS line, reach out to victims’ families or justice organizations.