On holidays and most other special occasions, Danielle Wilder feels the absence of her sister and 7-year-old nephew as a deep sadness — missing the closeness of her sisterly bond and the innocent joy of the boy she often looked after.
But on each anniversary of the awful day four years ago when they were found fatally shot in their Southwest Baltimore home, Wilder feels something else entirely.
“Every other holiday, you're sad. But on the anniversary, you're mad,” Wilder says, “because you still haven’t heard anything, because nobody has been punished.”
Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of the discovery of Jennifer Jeffrey-Browne, 31, and her young son Kester “Tony” Browne, a standout second-grader described as a “gentle soul” by his principal. Each was shot in the head, the boy in his pajamas.
The killings came one month after the death of Freddie Gray and the riots in 2015, at the start of a shocking spike in homicides that year. Still, they stood out.
City leaders promised those responsible would be brought to justice, and swiftly. Baltimore Police begged for help.
“The type of monster it would take to murder a 7-year-old in his room in his pajamas? The phone should be ringing off the hook to get whoever did this off the streets, because there's no doubt this person will visit violence upon someone else or has visited violence on someone else,” a police spokesman said at the time.
Some tips did come in, but didn’t lead to any arrests. There have been none. The case remains open, and detectives still are not sure what the motive was, said Det. Jeremy Silbert, a department spokesman.
Wilder, 42, said she’s heard all that — and it feels, to her, like a betrayal.
In the immediate aftermath of the killings, detectives seemed bullish about their case, she said. They suggested to the family that they had a suspect in sights.
The family felt like the person responsible must have been someone little Tony knew — someone he could have identified, which is maybe why the killer took his life, too, lest the boy become a cooperative witness. They thought if that was true, the suspect couldn’t be too far away, or too hard to identify.
“It looked so opened and closed,” Wilder said. “And then nothing.”
Today, everything seems stalled out, Wilder said. She is convinced the case has gone cold, that the detective has moved on to newer homicide cases, which keep stacking up on his desk. He doesn’t call, she said.
Every once in a while, she calls him, and “he seems to be very sincere,” Wilder said. But then months go by, again, with no check-in, no updates, no answers.
Silbert said the detective was not available to discuss the case.
The department’s homicide clearance rate now hovers at about 42 percent. It was about 30 percent in 2015. Wilder is far from alone.
More than 1,400 people have been killed in Baltimore since 2015. How many people have been left to mourn?
Wilder said she is stuck on her sister and nephew’s case. She obsesses over the timeline of events, things that don’t add up. She thinks of all the ways she would investigate it better, all the people she would interview, re-interview and interview a third time to make sure their stories stay consistent.
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Wilder said she now has terrible anxiety. She goes to therapy and is on medication. She has moved multiple times. Still, she is haunted — wondering where her sister’s killer, the one who shot a little boy, is now.
“I will stay in the house for a full week and not go anywhere, which I think just came from the depression,” she said.
She knows things were out of control in Baltimore in 2015, and forgives the police department for not solving the case right away. She also knows things have been bad in recent years. The killings just keep coming.
But it’s “been years on end,” she said, and she is exhausted.
“I cannot find any kind of closure,” she said. “The grieving process is just suspended in midair. It's just like stopped animation.”
She said she hopes her speaking out on the anniversary, when she’s more mad than sad, reminds the police — reminds Baltimore — that a mother and her little boy were killed, in cold blood, and that their family is still here, waiting.
“It’s agony. You wake up with it, you go to sleep with it,” Wilder said. “Four years later, it’s just ridiculous.”