The family of Howard Edley says the 70-year-old man was in Springfield for a men’s Christian ministry meeting and was going about his usual Saturday routine on July 14 when he was gunned down in a Clifton Avenue alley.
Less than a week later, on July 20, 22-year-old Gary Cameron was found by police critically wounded after being shot in Springfield on Russell Avenue. He died at the Springfield Regional Medical Center that night, about two months after his cousin, Cedric Holt Jr., was found dead in a park less than a half mile away from where Cameron was found.
Edley and Cameron were the 10th and 11th homicides in Springfield so far in 2018. For comparison, in 2017, Springfield police investigated 12 homicides.
Three 2018 cases have been solved. Edley’s, Cameron’s and Holt’s deaths, along with five others, remain under investigation.
Springfield community leaders, families of victims and Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf say the homicide numbers are too high and it’s important to remember the victims were real people who lost their lives.
“I don’t like to reduce these types of crimes because of their personal nature down to statistics, but 11 is concerning in a sense that is very high,” Graf said.
Graf said a number of factors go into why more homicide cases haven’t been solved. He says the division is doing everything possible to crack cases and bring justice to the victims and their families.
Teddi Litteral, the mother of 19-year-old Cobey Etherington — the first homicide victim of 2018 — said there are too many killings this year in Springfield.
“It’s not just Cobey, it’s all of these people and all of these victims,” she said. “Something has to stop. Something has to change.”
Families of the victims
Etherington was shot dead on Feb. 19 and his family says they will never fully recover.
“It’s not what I miss, it’s what I’ll never have,” Litteral said. “It is the life that he will never have. The kids he will never have. It’s not so much grieving him not being here, it’s grieving what he’ll never be. He was so determined.”
Litteral said her son was killed during a robbery. She said her son was in the wrong place at the wrong time but was not committing a crime when he was shot.
Etherington was attending Clark State Community College when he was killed. His killer has not been identified by police.
“He had so many bright ideas and he could have been so many things and in 30 seconds he was gone,” she said.
She said people in Springfield need to stop hurting each other.
“The violence has to stop,” she said. “It’s been one murder after another after another and if nobody is held accountable, these kids are going to continue to kill because there are no consequences.”
She said she wants her son’s killer to know that justice will come one day, whether it be in prison or before God.
“It’s not that you killed someone,” Litteral said. “You killed a whole family. You broke two grandmothers hearts.”
She and Etherington’s brother, Kellen Etherington, said they hope the killer does get arrested.
“(The violence) in Springfield is becoming too much,” Kellen, 15, said. “I grew up and live in Springfield. When I was younger, fourth, fifth, sixth grade it was never this bad and all of a sudden the past two or three years it’s just ridiculous.”
“I just hope there’s justice,” Kellen said.
Etherington’s family’s been grieving for about four months. Edley’s family attended his funeral Thursday.
Edley’s son, Kelley Edley, said his father was a dedicated, loving man who would help anyone in need.
“All I have is good memories,” Kelley Edley said. “He was very generous. The door was always open.”
He said he never heard his father cuss, drink or smoke.
“He lived right by the Bible,” Kelley Edley said. “You’d meet him and you would know he was a Christian.”
Howard Edley was shot and killed late Saturday, July 14, and was found in a Clifton Ave. alley between East Rose Street and Rice Street. Police responded to the alley to find Howard Edley sitting in a running truck with an unidentified number of gunshot wounds, according to a police report.
Howard Edley lived the majority of his life in Clark and Champaign County and moved to Holmes County after his wife died, Kelley Edley said. He came to Springfield every Saturday to take part in a men’s ministry group, his son said.
Kelley Edley lives in California and was planning to visit his father here next month. Kelley Edley said he talked to his father the day he was killed and was able to tell him that he loved him before hanging up the phone.
“It is frustrating not knowing why or who or what was the reasoning,” Kelley Edley said. “It’s hard to describe. I just want to know why.”
People need to think before they act, Kelley Edley said, especially if they are about to hurt someone.
“Think about the impact you are having on a family’s life,” he said. “Think about yourself.”
Solving the cases
Travis Hypes was arrested in April and is accused in the murder of Lindsey Marsh.
Eric Sirons is accused of killing Jennifer Sirons and Andrea Heiser and then killing himself.
Every other 2018 homicide case is open and investigators are working hard to crack them, Graf said.
“If you go out here in the investigative bureau right now, you see a bunch of exhausted detectives,” he said. “I go out not on every crime we have but I go out and these detectives work around the clock - at night when they are out there and when I come in the morning they are still there.
“They are constantly trying to track down witnesses, interview people, talk to families. It’s a very obsessive thing. It’s a personal thing.”
Homicide cases are tougher to solve than other cases because it’s impossible to talk with the main witness, Graf said. But he believes all the killers will eventually be brought to justice.
“Particularly when you don’t have a lot of witnesses coming forward or forensics that just point a path, they take time. Solvability, especially in a homicide, is not something that typically happens in a day or two. If it does it is almost going to happen right away. But over time, a lot of times you get closure of these things.”
For example, Graf said in 2015 there were 13 homicides and at the time they were all running open. Now 11 of those are solved.
“Over time, whether it is emotions that get to people, some persons get arrested for other crimes and decide they want to speak out about things or whatever it is…” he said. “Over time they (become) solvable. That’s what we want. That’s what we work for.”
Graf said he couldn’t go into detail about individual cases because they are still ongoing, but did say in many cases witnesses have refused to come forward with information.
It’s an issue, he said.
“Something that is a little bit concerning … is the reluctance of people to talk to police in investigations. This is part of the criminal justice reality,” he said. “It’s especially concerning in a homicide.”
He said there was even a case where upwards of 50 people probably know information that could help police, but few have come forward.
“We’ve had at least an incident where we had a large number of people present during one of the shootings and although we did have some witnesses come forward, it was not a large number,” he said. “I think that is kind of a microcosm of some of the things we are dealing with. That doesn’t mean that we are not tracking them down, but we are having to track them down one at a time, go out and find people.”
Witnesses not coming forward might be a reality of law enforcement, Graf said, but it’s important for people to do so to help give closure to families who deserve it.
“There is no such thing as a little bit of information,” he said. “If someone thinks they know something regarding any crime but particularly these homicides, them coming forward could make all the difference in a case.”
Graf said he has been contacted by many community members about the number of homicides and how his division is responding. The division will soon start using Facebook Live to answer questions from community members, he said. The division has also started its Safe Streets Task Force and is working to recover stolen guns.
He said despite what appears to be an increase in homicides in Springfield, he still feels the city is safe.
A homicide can have a big impact on not just the families and friends of the victim but everyone in Springfield.
“Lately, the more murders there are the angrier I get,” concerned community member Vonnie Green said. “I’m hurt. I never ever thought our city would be like this. I’m angrier because sometimes there have been witnesses and I know a lot of people don’t want to say anything because they are afraid of the retaliation. But with this cycle, things are only getting worse.”
She said it feels like over the years the violence is growing in Springfield.
“We want to save our young people and save people in general,” she said. “People’s lives are being stolen away.”
Parents of Victims of Crime founder Mary Dill said she is not surprised by the increase in violence and said more needs to be done.
“I feel sorry for the families and am upset at the people who know what’s going on and don’t do anything,” she said.
Dill said she believes a lot of the homicides can be traced to organized crime.
“It’s not unexpected for me and it’s going to get worse,” she said.
Green said she hopes the community will be able to rally around peace.
“I don’t know what all we can do, but I still feel like we need to try to do something to make a difference,” Green said. “We can’t lose hope and we can’t give up. We have to come together and do what we can to reclaim our city. I know we need to get back to loving one another.”
The Springfield News-Sun provides the best public safety coverage for both Clark and Champaign Counties. News-Sun reporters spoke with police, victim’s families and community members for this story about homicides in the City of Springfield.