North Toledo slaying ends festive plans

James Bragg is shot near home, days before birthday

9/9/2013
BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Franshawn Harris kisses her grandson, James Bragg III, outside his house on Cottage Street in Toledo. James lost his dad, James Bragg, to a shooting over the weekend.
Franshawn Harris kisses her grandson, James Bragg III, outside his house on Cottage Street in Toledo. James lost his dad, James Bragg, to a shooting over the weekend.

On the day James Bragg and Franshawn Harris were to be celebrating their son's birthday, they were, instead, planning the young man's funeral.

Their son, also named James Bragg, would have turned 22 on Monday.

The young father was shot Saturday in the North Toledo neighborhood where he lived. From the victim's front yard on Cottage Avenue, the house on West Park Street where the shooting started and the alley where the 21-year-old victim fell are within sight.

“You can tell me he's dead all you want, but I haven't seen [his body] yet,” said Ms. Harris on Monday afternoon, standing next to a memorial of stuffed animals, balloons, and handwritten notes tacked to a tree trunk. Mr. Bragg is the 20th homicide victim in the city of Toledo this year.

He was shot once in the abdomen, said Dr. Cynthia Beisser, a Lucas County deputy coroner. He died at Mercy St. Vincent Sunday.

He was standing outside 123 W. Park when the shots were fired at 2:55 p.m. Witnesses reported hearing six or seven gunshots.

Mr. Bragg started to run home across Park and through a yard before he collapsed on a paved alleyway, now covered by a spray-painted heart and "RIP JAMES."

Denell Lewis, 23, Mr. Bragg's best friend, is charged with shooting and injuring someone else at the scene, but not with the death of Mr. Bragg. Mr. Lewis is charged with felonious assault and improper discharge of a firearm; he was arraigned Monday in Toledo Municipal Court and ordered to remain in the Lucas County jail in lieu of $500,000 bond.

In court documents, Mr. Lewis is accused of shooting in the torso Anthony Porter, who was also at the scene, according to police.

Numerous neighbors — including Mr. Bragg's parents — and witnesses to the shooting rallied around Mr. Lewis on Monday to say that he is not responsible and wasn't on Park Street when the shooting started.

Mr. Lewis' father, also named Denell Lewis, said he and his son had just come home from an auto-repair shop when the shooting started.

A message left for James Bragg, who was shot and killed at 123 W. Park Ave. but was found here in an alley between 123 W. Park and his home on Cottage Street.
A message left for James Bragg, who was shot and killed at 123 W. Park Ave. but was found here in an alley between 123 W. Park and his home on Cottage Street.

A woman who declined to give her name fearing retaliation said she was running behind Mr. Lewis, coming from Cottage, who was running toward Mr. Bragg's body. There's no way, she said, Mr. Lewis could have pulled the trigger.

A relative of Mr. Bragg who said he was with the victim when he was shot also said Mr. Lewis wasn't there.

Police said Monday that they believe there was only one shooter — Mr. Lewis.

Toledo Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Heffernan said detectives might be waiting to file additional charges in connection with the death.

The slain man's parents were in court Monday to show support for Mr. Lewis, ready to arrange an attorney and post bond, though the amount ended up being too high, they said.

The family said police didn't take statements from enough people, which allowed a witness to identify Mr. Lewis as the suspect in a photo array.

Mr. Bragg said his son was having trouble with people in the neighborhood who were trying to sell drugs in front of the victim's grandfather's house.

“He got into trouble like any other kid, but that day he was coerced to go over there,” Mr. Bragg said about his son visiting West Park Street, where friends said he was supposed to fight another man and settle the argument about the drug dealing with a fist fight.

“He was a respectful kid, a quiet kid, a loving kid, and my baby,” said Mr. Bragg about his first-born child, who will be buried Sept. 20, on the older Mr. Bragg's 40th birthday. “I woke up crying, his mom called me crying, his son woke up crying.

“I guess the world was crying too, because it was raining,” Mr. Bragg said.

Ms. Harris said her son was looking forward to his 22nd birthday party.

She described her son as energetic and dedicated to fitness — he started boxing at 9 years old. A guy who liked hot rod cars, wanted to find a job as a mechanic, and loved his 2-year-old son, James Bragg III.

“I'm finally in the boat to say I know what it's like to lose a son,” Mr. Bragg said. “Not a boat you want to be in.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.