A year later, questions linger in homicides
Victim's family members critical of police response
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Audrey Bryant's family remembers her hands that she used to draw and design with, her home where the door always was unlocked and where food always was cooking.
Bryant was among three people killed within an hour of each other the morning of May 26, 2009, in Fort Washington and Northwest Washington, D.C. Prince George's County and Metropolitan police believe the two attacks are related.
But in the year since the homicides, no one has been arrested, and Bryant's relatives said they are in desperate need of closure.
According to police reports of that night, Bryant, 48, and her common-law husband, Keith Arness Jordan, 44, were gunned down inside their rented home along the 4000 block of Oaklawn Road in Fort Washington a home they had lived in for more than 10 years with Bryant's four sons.
Shortly after 1 a.m., Jordan called police and said he and Bryant had been shot, but by the time police arrived, Bryant had died from multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body near the rear of the house. Jordan, found on the home's upper staircase, was transported to a local hospital, where he later died.
Within hours, police said the killings were connected to the fatal shooting of family friend Carl Ashton O'Neil Gray Fitzgerald, 25, an hour earlier outside a club in the District where Fitzgerald and Bryant's sons performed with their hip-hip group.
Yasmin Gray, Bryant's sister, said Bryant accompanied her sons to Pure Lounge nightclub in the District every Monday, as she did the night she was killed, to watch them perform with their six-member group. Her sons, she said, were raised in a middle-class suburb and Bryant felt like she had to protect them in clubs.
"I got to protect my boys because they are not street," Gray said Bryant told her days before her death.
Jemon Bryant, 22, Audrey's youngest son, said the evening began as any other for him, his brother, Chente Bryant, 26, and members of the group, but that Fitzgerald was acting unusual and kept to himself during the night.
Jemon Bryant said that after he left the stage, he remembers trying to cheer up Fitzgerald. By midnight, he said he was on his way out of the club with his brother and that his mother, Jordan and Fitzgerald already had left.
Jemon Bryant said when he left the club, he stopped to help a friend get his vehicle, which was stuck behind a police barricade after a homicide. Jemon Bryant said he did not realize Fitzgerald was the one who had been shot and killed.
Minutes later, he said, he received a call from a neighbor in Fort Washington that police were circling his mother's home. By the time he and his brother arrived, police tape surrounded the house. Authorities, he said, questioned him and his brother for hours at the homicide unit's office in Fort Washington.
In the days that followed the homicide, Bryant's family said Prince George's County police failed to adequately investigate the scene of the crime. Cheryl Crawley, 42, Bryant's niece who is a sergeant with the Metropolitan Police Department, said within the first few hours of the killing the police failed to call in the K-9 unit, specially trained dogs police used to track the scent of suspects.
She said police also failed to call for air support to search the area for suspects, or adequately study forensics to determine if Bryant or Jordan snatched some of their killer's clothing fibers or DNA during the killing.
Crawley said when the family entered the home, blood splatter still lined the walls, and the home smelled of body fluid and brain matter, evidence she said police left behind. The family found bullet casings in the carpet and on top of clothing. The house was in disarray, Crawley said, suggesting that her aunt and Jordan fought their killers.
"I think the police didn't have patience to deal with the crime scene effectively," she said. "My aunt was murdered in her closet. She was running for her life."
Prince George's County police declined to speak specially on the case because it was an "open and ongoing investigation."
"Every resource that is available to us in making an apprehension of a suspect, we use," Cpl. Larry Johnson said.
Since Audrey Bryant's death, her family said that based on their conversations with Metropolitan police they think they know who the killer is a family friend who often ate at Bryant's home and frequently see him walking the streets of Fort Washington.
Jemon Bryant said the family doesn't know a motive behind the killings, he said.
The family said Metropolitan police told them they had apprehended a suspect believed to be involved with Fitzgerald's killing on an unrelated gun charge. Crawley said that she thinks Metropolitan police are close to an indictment.
Metropolitan police declined to comment specifically on the case because it is under investigation, but said they are following leads.
But the images of Audrey Bryant's death continue to haunt her family as the mystery lingers. Crawley said she's prone to break down in the middle of the day at her job and cry.
Other family members said they wake up every night at the time of Audrey Bryant's killing. Jemon Bryant said he has lived in several places throughout the county since last May and often takes different routes to work, fearing he is going to be targeted by his mother's killer.
The hands Audrey Bryant used to draw and design were riddled with bullets as she tried to protect herself from gunfire, Crawley said. During the funeral, her hands had to be covered with gloves and the mortician was unable to cover up the bullet holes left in her face.
"I just want closure," she said. "I hate the fact that somebody who loved everybody had to die that way."
Overwhelmingly, Audrey Bryant's family said they regret she ever stepped into the club that night.
"She was enjoying herself. She came to support her sons' music," Jemon Bryant said. "My life has changed so much. I lost my number one fan."