He was a young man trying to do everything right, homicide investigators say.
That’s why Tevin Thrower, 21, worked two jobs: days at Union Station’s Science City and nights stocking shelves at a Raytown Wal-Mart. It enabled him to live on his own.
Then somebody shot him to death in his apartment. Relatives found his body on New Year’s Eve, making his death Kansas City’s final homicide of 2014.
His killing continues to frustrate detectives who have solved 70 percent of last year’s homicides — one of the best clearance rates in five years, logged as homicides fell to a four-decade low of 79.
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Yet the families of Thrower and 23 other victims still don’t know why their loved one died or who killed them. The unknowing eats at them.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” said Janet Yarbrough, the mother of Thrower, the youngest of her four children.
The other victims ranged from an outgoing 16-year-old Missouri girl to a 56-year-old Kansas man engaged to be married. All but two were men. Nearly all were gunned down.
Detectives lament witnesses who likely saw something but won’t come forward, or who come forward but offer dodgy details, or who agree to testify in court but then back out.
In yet other cases, including Thrower’s, witnesses or other clues have proven elusive.
“It’s almost as if he (Thrower) didn’t exist,” said Sgt. Martin Cobbinah, who leads one of the Police Department’s four homicide squads. “We’re not hearing anything. Sometimes we get, ‘The word on the street is …’ but we don’t have that.”
Sometimes investigators can uncover social media chatter about younger victims. But not even that exists in this case, Cobbinah said as he recently leafed through a three-ring binder of investigation files.
Photos of the victims, put there for a purpose, stared back at him.
“I want to put a face with every case,” Cobbinah said. “That way you remember that you are dealing with a human being.”
Parents don’t need reminding.
Across Kansas City, the lack of progress saddens many families.
“I’m not sure how to put this, but if I check with the detective and there’s no change, it’s heartbreaking,” said Rebecca Reed, mother of Adrian Reed, a driver shot to death last summer. “So I always like to give it a little more time.”
Reed’s death illustrates a chief frustration felt by investigators: the lack of witnesses coming forward regarding a murder likely seen by many.
Someone shot Reed, 43, multiple times as his car idled July 23 at the intersection of Bannister and James A. Reed roads. Witnesses said Reed and occupants of another vehicle may have gotten entangled in a dispute before pulling next to each other at the intersection. An occupant of the other vehicle yelled something before gunfire erupted, police said.
Then the other vehicle, carrying a man and a woman, sped west on Bannister Road.
Investigators later released intersection surveillance video from just after the shooting. Although it didn’t include the killing, it showed the many onlookers the shooting soon attracted.
Although investigators received numerous tips right after the shooting, the frequency of tips has slowed.
“Maybe all the witnesses think the other person will be giving their information, so the police will not need theirs,” Rebecca Reed said. “But even just a little information could be important.”
Neighbors of her son, a senior structural designer at Burns & McDonnell, knew him as a skilled mechanic who could straighten the spoke on a child’s bicycle wheel, fix a neighbor’s brakes or relight a furnace pilot light.
“It’s so frustrating to think that this might never be resolved,” Reed said.
One source of hope is a $15,000 reward offered by the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers.
The organization, which solicits anonymous information through its TIPS Hotline, also is offering a $5,000 reward in another killing witnessed by many.
Nicholas Preuitt, 27, died after being shot Dec. 28 during an apparent argument in a Power & Light District parking garage. The investigation has been hampered by issues with surveillance video, Cobbinah said, as well as a lack of witnesses willing to speak up. Only a handful have come forward.
“Cars were lined up waiting to leave,” Detective Scott Mullen said. “We know there are more people who saw what happened but for some reason, they are not coming forward.”
Officers found Preuitt in a vehicle’s passenger seat. Witnesses described an argument before the shooting. The gunman, described as having long braided hair, apparently fled in a black sport utility vehicle.
“I think the investigators are doing what they can with what they have,” said Becky Barber, Preuitt’s mother. “It’s just extremely frustrating and the longer it goes the harder it will be.”
Barber and Reed communicate regularly with investigators, who expect to hear from family members at specific intervals, especially on the anniversaries of loved ones’ deaths.
The one-year anniversary of Alonzo Thomas IV’s killing arrives soon.
He died on a front porch near Wayne Avenue and Gregory Boulevard on April 5, a Saturday afternoon. He either had been standing and talking to several occupants of a car, or had been sitting with them in the car when at least person one shot him.
Robbery wasn’t a motive, Monique Willis said. Her 20-year-old son still had money in his pocket.
Witnesses were not completely honest with detectives, Cobbinah said.
“We need people to shed the whole ‘I don’t want to be a snitch’ response,” he said. “Tomorrow you may be the victim. Then you will want the community to do what you yourself did not want to do. That’s a problem.”
Willis’ initial shock and grief melded into resolve. She formed MommaOnAMission to support families that lose a loved one to violence.
She and others passed out fliers about her son’s murder. She met with Police Chief Darryl Forté. Frustrated with what she felt was a slow pace of the investigation, she described her dissatisfaction to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners in October.
Among her complaints: having to navigate, at least at first, Police Department bureaucracy to find the detective working her son’s case. Since then, communication has improved, Willis said.
“There were a lot of steps to this process that no one told me about,” she said. “I never had to plan a funeral, or deal with the police and find out who my detective was.”
On April 4, Willis will have a MommaOnAMission fundraiser and community walk, projected to be an annual event. She is inviting families of other homicide victims.
“This is to support them and make sure they know they can speak up and get answers,” she said.
Investigators describe a point in an investigation where they have checked off every box and completed every interview and need help from friends and family members.
That’s where Thrower’s case stands.
When he didn’t report to work one day, concerned employers contacted Thrower’s mother. Family members found his apartment door closed but unlocked.
Inside they found Thrower.
“There’s no reason as to why Tevin was killed,” Scott said. “He wasn’t involved in the drug trade or anything illegal. He didn’t have any enemies that anybody knows of.
“But somebody killed him for a reason, and whoever killed him knew him. And people around him may know what happened.”
Kansas City police homicide detectives continue to investigate 24 unsolved murders from 2014.
Jan. 13: Darrin Duncan, 21
March 5: David Krantz, 33
March 15: Dominick Sears, 27
March 20: Calvert Antwine, 32
April 5: Alonzo Thomas IV, 20
May 4: Consuaila Braden-Hughes, 22
May 4: Alfadil Sabil, 38
May 10: Michael McClellan, 42
June 3: Freddie Releford, 55
June 30: Hernandez Green, 26
July 16: Darion Page, 21
July 17: Deion Solomon, 18
July 23: Adrian Reed, 43
July 29: Theodore Bass- Brooks, 20
Aug. 3: Roberto Mejia, 29
Aug. 10: Stephon Cunningham, 20
Sept. 21: David Spry, 56
Oct. 23: Gary Wortham, 25
Oct. 26: Ronald Shelton, 39
Oct. 31: Dionte Greene, 22
Dec. 21: Deleisha Kelley, 16
Dec. 27: Brandon Moore, 25
Dec. 28: Nicholas Preuitt, 27
Dec. 31: Tevin Thrower, 21