Eight years ago, Julius D. Harris moved to Kansas City so he could make a new start on a new chapter in his life.
Since then, Harris, 36, operated an auto mechanic shop in Kansas City, Kan., devoted countless hours at being a doting father to his five children and recently had begun attending church.
But a life filled with hope and promise was cut short Tuesday, relatives said Thursday, when someone opened fire and killed Harris as he drove north on Bruce R. Watkins Drive during evening rush hour traffic.
Responding to a Shotspotter call just after 6 p.m., officers found Harris fatally shot inside an SUV that had pulled over on the exit ramp at 39th Street. Shotspotter is a gun detection system that alerts police to outdoor gunfire.
“We had several witnesses there; none of them observed the shooting,” said officer Darin Snapp, a police spokesman. “The evidence that we have recovered so far, it may have been a shoot-out between two vehicles including the victim. There were definitely shots being fired in both directions.”
Police speculate that the shooting covered an eight-block stretch from Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard to 39th Street. Traffic along the roadway was closed as detectives and crime scene technicians gathered shell casings and other evidence.
There was no one else in the vehicle with Harris when police found him.
Relatives said Harris was driving back to his shop in Kansas City, Kan., after a person he had arranged to meet to give him a car engine for his mechanic shop never showed up for the appointment.
“He’s the type of guy who doesn’t like to be out after nightfall,” his sister, Markella Finley said Thursday. “I think somebody set my brother up. Who knows, this is crazy.”
Finley said she disputes claims by police that her brother was armed. Someone told Finley that police did not find a handgun on her brother.
“So he couldn’t have been shooting back,” she said. “There wasn’t a rolling gun battle. I hate that they keep saying that. My brother did not shoot back.”
Finley described her brother as a loving and devoted father. His young daughters are struggling and have many questions about their father.
“They know that their daddy’s in heaven, but they don’t understand,” Finley said. “They just want to know why their daddy isn’t at home at night. Why their daddy is not taking them to day care or taking them to school.”
Harris grew up and was educated in Omaha. He moved to Kansas City after being released from federal prison on a drug conviction. Harris earned a GED while in prison and later took up welding. He worked at GE before opening his own business.
Nearly every week, Harris visited Omaha, where he attended church and spent time with his large, extended family, Finley said.
“He’s a good man; that is why it is so hard,” she said. “My brother would help anybody. He was a good father. He was a phenomenal father.”
Harris was Kansas City’s 19th homicide victim this year.
Police said they have developed several promising leads as they try to piece together what led to the shooting.
“It was at 6 p.m. on 71 highway — it is the end of rush hour so there are a lot of cars on the highway, so thankfully no one else was injured,” Snapp said. “Unless we are on every corner, 24 hours a day there is no way you can actually prevent this type of thing. You just hope their morals will kick in and they won’t go down the highway shooting at each other.”