Close family members of John Trivonne Deondre Howard faced journalists at the Statesboro Police Department headquarters Friday morning to issue a public appeal to anyone who knows who shot him to death to provide that information to police.
His mother, Sherman Lewis, and uncle, Michael Howard, directed their heartfelt request especially to people who were present when their son and nephew was shot at Blakewood Apartments the evening of Thursday, Jan. 28 and his friends who may know something.
John T.D. Howard, 32, known as “Cherry Head,” did not reside at the Blakewood complex on East Olliff Street but had gone there for an informal social gathering. Hit by multiple gunshots, he had fallen behind one of the apartments when police received the call at 7:41 p.m.
Meanwhile, his mother started getting the kind of calls that a loving parent hopes never to get. Often when she and her son talked, including when he phoned her one day before the shooting, she told him, “Be careful,” and that she didn’t want anybody calling her to tell her that something had gone wrong for her child, she said.
So she had said “No, no, no!” to the first person who called to tell her that “Cherry Head” had been shot, and “No, not my baby! …” to the second caller, the mother of his children.
“He was gone, and that’s one call that I thought that I’d never get, somebody calling telling me that my baby’s gone,” Lewis told reporters, and continued, tearfully, “I don’t wish this on nobody.... Who wants to bury their child? … I can’t talk to him no more. I can’t hug him. I can’t do nothing no more. The only thing I’ve got are memories of him.”
To his friends
Lewis directed some of her comments through the news media to her son’s friends, including some who “dealt with him daily, … ate at his table, … rode in his car” and who she suspects may know who killed him.
“If y’all was his friends, say something,” Lewis said, “because there was people out there that actually saw everything from beginning to end but won’t say anything, and … there is an anonymous tip line that y’all can call that they don’t need to know who you are.
“Help the Police Department, help the ones that are on this case bring closure to the case, how he died, and mainly bring closure to us, his family,” she said.
The email address for anonymous tips is firstname.lastname@example.org. The direct number to the Police Department, where Detective James Winskey and Detective Katie Reese are working this case and can also receive information anonymously, is (912) 764-9911.
Who he was
The grieving mother sat between her brother, Michael Howard, and his daughter Jessica Howard, “Cherry Head” Howard’s first-cousin. The two women were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a smiling, casual photo of their late son and cousin over the slogan, “Justice for Cherry Head.”
“From the time that I had John, he basically had a smile on his face,” Lewis said. “I have pictures from his birth up until now, and he a smile on his face then, and if he could help anybody, he would. That’s the type of person he was.”
Lewis, a minister with the title of elder, also emphasized her son’s Christian upbringing. Born when his mother was still a teenager in high school, John T.D. Howard was raised by his grandparents, Deaconess Betty J. Herrington of Pembroke and the late Evangelist John Henry Howard, along with his mother. The nickname “Cherry Head” came from a mark that appeared on his forehead as a baby.
He remained a member of The House of God Church in Pembroke. But he came to reside in Statesboro, where he lived with his girlfriend and was employed with Wild Wing Café.
In the week since his death, Lewis had received social media messages and emails from people telling her what a loving person he was and that he helped them. One was from a woman who said “he saved her from being hurt” when she didn’t even know him, his mother said.
“And if my son got a heart like that, why would you want to take him?” she asked.
John Howard has two sons, ages 9 and 7.
“He was involved in their life. … Who would take their daddy from them?” their grandmother asked.
“Even if it wasn’t my son, if I’d seen something, I’m going to say something, because I feel like the family has a right to know…,” she said. “Don’t deprive my family, do not deprive my grandkids of knowing what happened to their dad and help the police department close this case.”
While his sister and daughter comforted each other, Michael Howard picked up the appeal for information. In the process, he revealed that a three-second video of John Howard, on the ground behind the apartment after being shot, had been circulated on social media and seen by family members.
“One thing that I’ve got peace with, like my sister said, he knew the Lord, and that couple of seconds that he had, and whoever he was that took that three-second video of my nephew laying on the ground, and you had the nerve to send it to my family. …,” Michael Howard said. “You can’t get no lower than that, but you said you were his friends.”
Uncle’s reward offer
He then announced that he is offering a reward.
“I don’t have it, but I’m going to sacrifice a thousand dollars of my hard-earned money, whoever can come up with the arrest of the gentleman who took my nephew’s life … ,” Howard said. “If you know anything, I’m asking you, male, female, whoever was out there that night, if you stand for something that is right, he didn’t deserve that. … Please call the detectives and give them the information.”
Capt. Jared Akins, who oversees the SPD bureau that includes the detectives, also took questions from journalists.
Asked if more than one shooter was involved in the homicide, Akins said he could not answer that from the evidence so far until a GBI Crime Lab analysis is completed.
Police have seen nothing suggesting that the shooting was gang-related. It may have been the result of a conflict limited to a single day, Akins said. The gathering that evening involved a cookout among people who knew each other, he said.
A number of individuals apparently fled the scene after the shooting, Akins said. Police had interviewed everyone they found who was there. They also canvassed the apartment complex, where some people said they saw and heard nothing, which police do not necessarily believe. Akins said “a tremendous amount of work” has been done on the investigation, and credited Winskey and Reese for their efforts.
“But ultimately, in almost every homicide case, the eyewitness testimony, the people that will come forward and talk to you, that’s what makes or breaks the case. …,” Akins said. “So we need folks who were either in the complex on that particular evening or even if they weren’t out there but have heard something since, to come forward and give us that information.”