Shuree Jefferson knew something was wrong when her brother didn't answer his cell.
It was late evening creeping up on early morning, somewhere in the patch of static between April 7 and 8. Jefferson, a mother and business owner living out in Solon, had just fielded a strange call from her younger sister Carla. She wanted to know whether Shuree had spoken with their older brother, Jamelle Swanson. After Jefferson answered she hadn't, Carla said she would call back and hung up.
That's when Jefferson decided to try calling him herself. Jamelle always answered his phone, but this time it just rang on.
The oldest of the tight-knit group of siblings, 36-year-old Swanson lived on Cleveland's gritty near East Side, not far from where the family grew up. Carla still lived there too, and when she dialed up her anxious older sister again moments later, it was to report the news that was filtering through the block: Jamelle was lying dead on the floor of a nearby house.
Jefferson jumped in her car and sped from the suburbs to East 92nd. Swinging onto the street, she saw the neighbors on the sidewalk and patrol car lights painting the house fronts. An ambulance idled at the curb.
"When I pulled up I knew," Jefferson says today. "I already accepted it."
Police reports tend to be tight-lipped on details, and the paperwork from April 8 isn't any different. According to the records, Swanson was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Witnesses ID'd the shooter as a convicted felon named Delvon Sims. The evidence pointed to an aggravated murder charge.
But outside of those skinny details, nothing much about the case is clear. Since the traumatic first hours, Swanson's family has been caught in a crossfire of differing accounts. Concrete facts are in short supply. Witnesses have told different stories at different times. Police and prosecutors have broadcast mixed signals.
All that fog has only jacked up the family's frustration. Because outside of the confusion, one more fact is indisputable: The witnesses, police, and prosecutors agree that the triggerman was caught. Then he was cast back into the streets a free man.
"This is an injustice. Delvon murdered someone in cold blood and ran from the crime scene," Jefferson says one afternoon in her Solon home, located in a prim subdivision of well-maintained spreads on the suburb's southern edge. "We just want answers to how they could allow someone to be killed and let the murderer off."
Despite the turbulence and frustration of recent weeks, Jefferson hasn't let the emotional strain dent her calm exterior; petite and younger-looking than her 33 years, she rattles off the details of her brother's death with a succinct delivery, as if she's grown too accustomed to itemizing the tragedy's bullet points.
Suddenly the oldest sibling, Jefferson is running point on her family's effort to get answers — about what really happened that night, and why Cuyahoga County prosecutors declined to charge the shooter. It's a fight she's not afraid to wage, whether it means pounding on doors or standing up to obstinate suits downtown.
"The message the prosecutor's office is sending is that it's OK to kill someone and get away with it," Jefferson explains. "I'm a firecracker. I'm not backing down. I told them, we'll never go away."
The four brothers and sisters — Swanson, Jefferson, 29-year-old Bennett, and 25-year-old Carla — spent their early days on East 88th. After both parents passed away and the siblings started their own lives, the family bond remained tight. Jefferson ran the family construction and landscaping business. Swanson worked there. Off the clock the family socialized, spending a couple nights a week together going to movies, family functions, or having cookouts or dinners at Jefferson's Solon home.