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Police & Fire

14 homicides not yet solved haunt families

Toledo police’s 62% clearance rate mirrors national average

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    Shawn Flowers

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    The slaying of Shawn Flowers, 22, is discussed by his sister, Donna Flowers, left, her daughter Alayla, 5; granddaughter ZaNaya, 7, and daughter ZyKeirra, 7. On the couch is Brandon Flowers, 26, and his wife, S’Neta, and the siblings’ grandmother, Hazel Daniels. Brandon’s son, KiViyan, 8, is facing him. Seated on the floor is Brandon’s brother, Ryan, 24. Shawn’s Sept. 25 slaying was one of 31 in Toledo last year and one of 14 that remains unsolved. Police investigators say they have little information to go on to solve his homicide. Ryan Flowers says somebody knows what happened, but people either don’t care or they are afraid to say anything for fear of retaliation.

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Shawn Flowers was not alone when he died.

The 22-year-old Toledo man was in a busy west side neighborhood where people were barbecuing, sitting on their porches, and going in and out of nearby convenience stores when someone shot him twice in the chest.

Mr. Flowers’ body was found in an alley in the 1200 block of Woodstock Avenue just after 10 p.m. on Sept. 25.

More than three months later, no charges have been filed.

Although police say they have little information to go on, “Somebody knows something,” said Mr. Flowers’ brother, Ryan Flowers, 24. “People either don’t care or they’re scared.”

Mr. Flowers’ death is one of 31 homicides handled by the Toledo Police Department in 2013. It’s also one of 14 that remains unsolved.

RELATED CONTENT: 2013 Blade Homicide Report

RIDE ALONG CRIME BLOG: Year-end crime stats from far and wide

Some investigations have produced what authorities describe as “persons of interest.”

Some have little more than a body that has since been buried and evidence that was collected at the scene.

The department's 2013 homicide clearance rate mirrors the 2012 national average of about 62 percent.

For Toledo police, the percentage is considerably lower than years past, when the solve-rate was above 80 percent.

That’s with fewer homicides last year than in 2012 (37) and 2011 (36).

“Each homicide is different,” police Sgt. Tim Noble said. “There are no trends. There’s a couple that are possibly connected, and we’re working on that. … I really don’t have an answer to why the clearance rate is lower.”

Some cases, such as domestic-violence homicides, are easier to close than others.

In 2013, five deaths were domestics: Kaitlin Gerber and Jordan Jones were killed by their boyfriends; Andrew Hassler and Elaina Steinfurth were killed by adults who were supposed to love and protect them; Mary Bertolina was allegedly stabbed to death by her only child.

Detectives say they need more investigators to help chase leads and spread out case work.

Retirements and reassignments have left the investigative services bureau with several openings, which officials said they intend to fill.

But many cases are left unsolved by witnesses who refuse to come forward, regardless of the manpower for investigations.

“That’s a constant battle,” Sergeant Noble said.

Despite threats and bribery attempts directed at witnesses, though, Sergeant Noble said the public does offer considerable help.

“We get a lot of calls and I think that’s one of the reasons Toledo has better crime stats and is a safer city than a lot of other cities its same size,” the sergeant said. “People in this community do care and do call.”

But for 14 families who lost a loved one in 2013, there isn't enough information coming in.

Ernestine Flowers raised her four children as a single parent. She worked two jobs and did everything she could to raise a strong, close-knit family.

When Mr. Flowers was 4 years old, he snuck onto a Texas-bound Greyhound bus, the one carrying his sister to visit family, and sat next to a stranger hoping to make it south.

He was brought home by a state trooper who had pulled the bus over at the Ohio-Indiana state line.

Mr. Flowers followed his older brothers Brandon and Ryan everywhere.

“We had a lot of adventures,” Ryan Flowers said.

Once, Ryan and Shawn — when they were about 10 and 7 years old — snuck out of the house and made it downtown. They saw an escalator and decided it would make a great slide.

Ryan made it down the rail with ease. Shawn, a chubby kid, got stuck at the bottom and his pant leg became entangled in a belt.

“I’m panicking,” Ryan said. “My first thought was, ‘How am I gonna get him out of this situation,’ not because his health or his well-being, but because my mom is gonna tear my [butt] up.”

Ryan found an adult who called 911. Firefighters freed the little boy and took the brothers home.

“My mom, she didn’t waste no time,” Ryan said. “I think she tore my [butt] up in front of the firefighters.”

“She did,” howled Donna Flowers, the eldest of the siblings. “I remember.”

The siblings agreed that their little brother cared more about family than anything else.

He was kind and loving and generous.

He was also a mama’s boy.

Ernestine Flowers didn’t die quickly or unexpectedly.

She told Brandon Flowers, now 26, to make sure that Shawn Flowers was always taken care of.

In 2007, the 49-year-old mother died of heart failure, the coroner’s office ruled.

Shawn Flowers took it hardest, but was still the one to remind the family to get together.

“He was the glue,” Donna Flowers said.

He was not the kind of person the family expected to bury at 22, nor was he the kind whom family and friends expected to memorialize on T-shirts.

“He seems like an OK kid,” said Toledo police Detective Bob Schroeder, the lead investigator on the case.

“No gang affiliations that we know of. Probably five, maybe 10 people nearby when he’s shot. No one steps up for him,” he said.

Shawn Flowers died on a Wednesday, a day that began with his oldest sister, Donna Flowers, needing help getting her her daughter, ZyKeirra Bell, 7, to school.

Donna Flowers' car was disabled, and she needed to take the bus to work.

Shawn Flowers, who lived with his sister, walked the first grader from their Montrose Street home to Robinson Elementary School. Later that day, he walked her back.

That night, a visiting neighbor asked Shawn Flowers to get her a cigarette from a store.

Mr. Flowers made it to the store. He bought the cigarette. He stopped in Stef’s Comboz for some food.

More than an hour later, he hadn’t come home.

A friend who stopped by Donna Flowers’ said someone had either been killed or robbed, because there were “a billion people” gathered around the store and police were putting up crime-scene tape.

Donna Flowers said she thought Shawn “is probably up there being nosy.”

She started walking toward the store and overheard a group of people say the victim was a child who was wearing red pants.

Not Shawn. He must be in one of the neighbors’ houses.

“I’ll kill him for making me worry,” Donna Flowers, the oldest of four siblings, told herself.

“Shorty, didn’t you say your brother was wearing red pants?” a man asked. “You better stay and talk to the detectives.”

Near the alley, where crime-scene investigators were looking for evidence and officers were trying to maintain order, Donna Flowers could only see red pants and the pair of sneakers Shawn was wearing.

Soon enough, Detective Schroeder led her to an investigator from the Lucas County Coroner’s Office who confirmed her growing fears.

Mr. Flowers, who had no criminal history, was wearing red pants in a Crips neighborhood.

“We’ve sat here for the last three months trying to figure out why this happened,” Ms. Flowers said.

Police ask that anyone with information about Mr. Flowers’ death, or any other crimes, call the Crime Stopper program at 419-255-1111. Callers may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a cash reward.

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

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