Like many others in Kansas City, Romez Howell was shocked by the vicious attacks that left three people dead and two others gravely injured Tuesday afternoon.
But the biggest jolt came for Howell when he learned who had been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder — his son Brandon Howell.
Although Brandon Howell’s youth was filled with legal troubles, including murder allegations and a lengthy stint in Kansas prisons, his family said that he had seemingly turned his life around since his 2011 parole.
“What happened there, he doesn’t seem to be the person that would have done it,” Romez Howell said. “But I don’t know.”
Another member of Brandon Howell’s family, who asked that her name not be used to protect the anonymity of her children, said that except for one minor incident where he was cited for walking away from a traffic accident, he had no legal troubles since he left prison.
“He was trying real hard,” she said, “to stay on the straight and narrow.”
Family members said Brandon Howell had been steadily employed until last month when he was injured at a job at a construction site. When he couldn’t return to work immediately, they said, he was laid off.
“It was a real blow to him to lose that job,” the family member said.
He had obtained that job through a temporary employment service, but officials with that company declined to comment.
As a juvenile, Brandon Howell, 34, racked up an extensive criminal record in Johnson County. He was prosecuted for crimes ranging from theft and criminal damage to battery and aggravated battery and spent time in the state youth center.
In one incident, he punched and cut another teen with a knife, according to police reports. A girl who was a witness in that case later sought a protection order against him, according to court records.
He attended schools in Shawnee Mission, including the district’s alternative education high school before withdrawing in 1998 without graduating, according to school district records.
After two other students at the alternative school went missing in April 1998, Howell went from juvenile miscreant to murder suspect. The body of one of those students was found buried in the yard of a house Howell’s father was renovating.
But while Kansas City homicide detectives investigated that case, Howell was arrested in Johnson County for a home invasion robbery in Gardner.
In 2000, Howell, then 20, pleaded guilty in that case to charges of aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and cruelty to animals for the beheading of a pet cat during the crime.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was transferred to the Kansas Department of Corrections in September 2000.
During the first few years of his incarceration, he was cited for a number of disciplinary violations including fighting, battery, possession of dangerous contraband and disobeying orders, according to prison records.
In 2006, he was transferred to Jackson County after prosecutors charged him with the murders of Tabitha Brewer and Nick Travis, his former classmates.
But in 2009, a Jackson County jury acquitted him of the murder charges, and he was returned to Kansas to complete his sentence.
After that, he only had one minor disciplinary infraction and was placed on work release before his parole in February 2011, the records show.
His parole was supervised by Missouri officials as part of an interstate agreement. A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections said Howell was released to Missouri because it was determined he would have more family support.
Missouri officials said his parole record is not open to the public, but he apparently did not have any significant violations until his sentence expired in August 2013 and he was released from parole.
His relative said that for a time, Howell had a job picking up and delivering donations but couldn’t do that anymore after he wrecked his car.
That wreck occurred in May 2013 near 80th and Grant streets, according to Overland Park police.
A warrant for his arrest was issued in Overland Park Municipal Court for failure to report a traffic accident, but he wasn’t arrested until this May. He was released after one night in jail.
Howell’s family said he has been trying to save money to buy a new car and often struggled to find transportation to and from work.
“He was working six days a week,” Romez Howell said. “I was trying to help him get a car.”
Romez Howell said he only had intermittent contact with his son and was unsure of where he was living.
“He stayed with his mom sometimes or with another friend,” he said.
Howell’s mother could not be reached for comment.
At the time of his arrest in May, Brandon Howell gave jail officials the address of a Kansas City motel. That motel’s phone number is now disconnected.
Romez Howell said he last talked to his son about a week before Tuesday’s incident. The father didn’t know why his son would have been in the south Kansas City neighborhood where the killings occurred.
Kansas City police are continuing to investigate how Howell got to the neighborhood that day.
Brandon Howell was arrested late Tuesday night in Kansas City, North, near where a vehicle stolen from the crime scene was found abandoned.
On Wednesday, Jackson County prosecutors charged him with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree assault against two of the victims who remain hospitalized in critical condition.
“I don’t know what happened,” his relative said. “We’re all very shocked.”
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