COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department arrested six males, including two minors, Monday night in connection with the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Ronald Cornell Brown that occurred early Monday morning, according to a department news release.
One 16-year-old male was charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action. The other 16-year-old was charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and possession of a controlled substance. Their names were not released.
Ashtin Levi Weger, 19; Nicholas James Weavers, 21; Michael Leshawn McHenry, 17; and Andre Joshia Lee, 21, were all charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery.
According to the release, investigators say Brown, Weger and Lee arranged to meet a 16-year-old male to purchase a large amount of marijuana at Ballenger Liquor — where Brown was later found shot. The building used to be a Casey's General Store, which was the site of the 1994 triple homicide that is considered the most brutal crime in Columbia's history.
Police say Weaver, McHenry and the two juveniles planned to meet with Weger and steal the money he had brought to purchase the marijuana. The four suspects had no marijuana or any substitute with them at the time, and all were aware of the plan to rob Weger, according to the release.
After Brown, Weger and Lee arrived at the liquor store parking lot, a dark-colored Jeep Cherokee pulled up and one of the 16-year-old males got out, according to the release. He then began firing a handgun at Brown, Weger and Lee, allegedly striking Brown in the lower abdomen. The three men then reportedly returned fire, striking the Jeep.
Monticelli said a vehicle of the same description was found abandoned in the parking lot of the Home Depot on Clark Lane; the vehicle was impounded by police. He confirmed the vehicle was connected to the shooting. There was evidence of bullet holes in the vehicle, which is owned by one of the juvenile suspects, according to the police news release.
At about 12:40 a.m. Monday, police found Brown with a gunshot wound to the upper leg in the side parking lot of the store after they had received multiple reports from neighbors of shots fired, Columbia Police Capt. Stephen Monticelli said. Brown was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Jackie Jennings, who has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years, said life in the northeast Columbia neighborhood had been fairly uneventful since the Casey’s murders in 1994.
He said the fatal shooting of Brown early Monday was upsetting.
“This was too close to home for me,” Jennings said.
“I woke up to several shots in the night that sounded like someone knocking on my door,” Jennings said. “By the time I walked outside, I only heard one more. I saw a dark green Jeep Cherokee creeping up and down the streets, and I normally don’t get scared, but that vehicle disturbed me.”
Jennings also said the vehicle paused in front of the scene for a minute before slowly driving around the block again. “I just hid behind the pole at my house while it drove by, then I went inside,” he said.
Evidence found at the scene includes two different caliber casings, which means two different weapons were involved, Monticelli said. Officers have recovered one of the weapons used, the release said.
Shontez Truss, who said he was a childhood friend of Brown, was surprised to find out Brown was dead and said he was “a cool guy” and had always stayed out of trouble as far as he knew.
“He called me earlier around 10:30 p.m. and asked if I could give him a ride to the store later," Truss said, referring to Ballenger Liquor. "I couldn’t take him, but I really don’t know why he would need to go up there that late.”
Orlando Collier, who said he was a good friend of Brown, said he walked by the scene around 2 a.m. and was shocked to learn of Brown's death.
“This is close to me not only because I knew him so well, but also because it is right near my house. Corey (Brown) was a fun-loving, outgoing guy, and he will be missed," Collier said.
Mitzi Enlow, Collier’s mother and a frequent visitor to the area, teared up upon hearing the news. “I pray constantly for the children. The things we deal with as parents, especially in the times we live in today, it keeps me in constant prayer,” she said.
Paula Schneider, a member of the Neighborhood Watch Association on McKee Street near the scene of the shooting, said there are always a lot of cars driving in and out of the neighborhood at night. "(The shooting) is sad, but I’m not surprised,” she said.
Schneider said crime seemed to be on the rise near where she lives. An analysis of data on the Missourian's Crime Watch Web site shows that the neighborhood, located in police beat 25, has had a consistent problem with property crimes since 2005, though there has been no significant trend in violent crimes.
“There are drug deals that go on at the park and houses broken into all the time. The police used to patrol this neighborhood regularly but have not been around recently,” Schneider said.
Monticelli said patrols had not stopped.
“They might not see officers as frequently as they would like to because they may be addressing other calls,” Monticelli said.
Monday night, the juveniles charged in the incident were released to the custody of the Boone County Juvenile Office. Weger, Weavers, McHenry and Lee were released to the custody of Boone County Correctional Office pending bonds.
Missourian reporter Megan Wiegand contributed to this report.