Two cousins — young boys who loved superheroes — were gunned down in a home on 57th and College.
A missing Liberty teen, who got mixed up with the wrong crowd, is now presumed dead.
And a young boy, who was tortured and abused by his father and stepmother for months, ultimately starved to death and was fed to pigs.
All are victims of crimes in the Kansas City area with a common thread, their families say: Someone knew something about what happened and said nothing.
On Saturday, concerned citizens gathered with the families of the cousins, Jayden Ugwah, 9, and Montell Ross, 8; the teen, Desirea Ferris; and the young boy, Adrian Jones, with this goal: to push for stronger witness protection programs with the hope that more people will come forward with tips about crimes.
The group, which has no formal name yet, is putting together a petition for the cause. The members hope to recruit more families and create a local task force to bring their issues to the attention of elected officials and law enforcement on both sides of the state line.
“I cannot allow for Jayden and Montell and other babies to be forgotten,” said Aishah Coppage, Montell's mother, who helped organize Saturday's meeting at the Kansas City Public Library's Lucille Bluford branch.
On Aug. 13, 2016, at least 20 gunshots pierced their home's front window, killing the two boys and wounding three other children.
“We were where we thought we were safe. … I was awakened by screams,” Coppage said.
She said relatives were told the shooting was in retaliation for something done by another family member, but they don’t know what. The investigation remains open.
“There are still … people out there who don’t mind killing kids,” Coppage said. “The boys haven’t received justice.”
Desirea Ferris was 18 last May when she left her home in Liberty in an unknown vehicle. Last month, 12 billboards with photos of Desirea went up around town, as the family hopes to get answers.
She is not a runaway, her relatives say. They presume she is dead based on the tips they have received, said her step-aunt Angela Renfrow. So far, they have focused the search along Blue River Road, from Swope Park to 104th Street, based on the last pings from her cellphone nearly a year ago.
“Nobody wants to talk. … Everybody’s worried about snitching. How can we get them to come forward?” said Spike Reuscher, a volunteer who has been helping Desirea's family.
Her family said witnesses may have criminal backgrounds or drug problems, so they may be reluctant to speak up.
Judy Conway’s grandson, Adrian Jones, died when he was 7 years old in a case that law enforcement officials said was one of the worst they’d ever seen.
Adrian’s remains were found in a Wyandotte County barn in November 2015. He had been abused, tortured, and starved. His body was fed to pigs.
Heather Jones, his stepmother, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to felony first-degree murder and child abuse. His father, Michael Jones, at first pleaded guilty and avoided a trial. Last fall, he attempted to get a trial, telling a judge, “There’s a lot I’m guilty for. I’m just not guilty of first-degree murder.”
Adrian’s father and stepmother evaded social workers by moving back and forth between Kansas and Missouri — taking advantage of jurisdiction issues and communication gaps between agencies in the two states, Conway said. Now, Missouri lawmakers are considering a bill to help the state track down families like Adrian's.
Conway has pushed for better child protections, including an independent child advocacy office in Kansas, which could serve as a watchdog for the state’s Department of Families and Children.
“We have to use our voices. We have to be heard,” she told the gathering Saturday. “One of us speaking isn’t loud. But all of us? That’s pretty loud.”
Anyone with information on criminal cases is asked to call the Tips Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).