Sunday, June 25, 2000

Mother 'suffers in silence'

One year later, son's death still a mystery to mom, police

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        TRENTON — Reminders of Brian keep confronting Sue Duff.

        At night, when she's working as a coronary care nurse at Middletown Regional Hospital, sometimes the phone will ring, and she'll think it's him calling. “He used to call just to ask what was going on and to tell me he loved me,” Mrs. Duff said.

        In the mornings, Brian's adopted sister, Jamie, 10, says she misses the Minnie Mouse-shaped pancakes and other breakfast treats he used to prepare. “He used to wreck my kitchen,” Mrs. Duff said, laughing at the memory of Brian's trail of messes.

        “I suffer in silence, but I think of him a thousand times a day,” Mrs. Duff said, adding her own twist to a quote she'd read once.

        Her son, Brian, 27, is the victim of a homicide that remains unsolved.

        A year ago — around 12:30 a.m. on June 25, 1999 — Mr. Duff was shot through the windshield of his gray 1986 Buick Skylark as he drove near Baltimore Street and Woodlawn Avenue.

        The bullet struck his chin, lodged in his chest and severed a major blood vessel. He lost so much blood, his brain was deprived of oxygen.

        The brain damage killed him 12 days later at Miami Valley Hospi tal in Dayton, Ohio, his mother said. Mr. Duff never regained consciousness, so police were unable to question him about the shooting.

        And other people who may know something about it aren't talking, police say.

        “We're frustrated because we think there are some people who could help us, but they refuse to help us,” said Middletown Police Lt. Don Owens.

        Mrs. Duff says members of her family also believe possible informants are holding back information.

        “It's going to come out eventually, so they might just as well come forward,” she said.

        Detective Frank Hensley said a lot of people have come forward and given their opinions or theories about what may have happened, but he needs facts.

        Although he acknowledged that a year has gone by — and that must seem like a long time to a family — Detective Hensley said police never give up on homicide investigations. “We get all the information we possibly can, and we never forget,” he said. “We want to put somebody in jail (for the crime).”

        He noted that the city has solved most of its homicides. Last year, there were two people slain in Middletown: Mr. Duff and Marcus Robinson, 44, whose cousin was charged with causing the head injuries that killed him.

        Mr. Duff's loved ones continue frequent contacts with police, hoping to hear any news of progress in the investigation.

        Lt. Owens said police “have a feel for the circumstances surrounding the death,” but declined to elaborate.

        At the time of his death, Mr. Duff was working as a mechanic; he also had worked as a cook at several area restaurants and had done construction work, his mother said.

        Police records show Mr. Duff had his share of problems. He was arrested several times — mostly for drug, alcohol and driving offenses. But family members have said he had no known enemies.

        One of five children, Mr. Duff loved kids and had longed to settle down and have a large family of his own, Mrs. Duff said.

        He was especially close to Jamie, a granddaughter whom Mrs. Duff adopted. “That made him both her brother and her uncle, so she called him her "bruncle,'” Mrs. Duff said, an arm around the girl.

        Jamie said she enjoyed frequent trips to Paramount's Kings Island with him. “Brian's favorite ride was the Vortex,” she said.

        He played guitar and was musically talented, his mother said.

        He also delighted friends and family with his wit. He would often imitate voices of various characters, including the Genie from the movie, Aladdin, Jamie said.

        She giggled when talking about the fun she had with her “bruncle,” but had a tough time talking about how his death affected the family. Her blue eyes welled up with tears, she folded her arms across her chest and she said, “We all got mad and sad.”

        Family gatherings continue to be tainted by feelings of loss, sometimes anger and discomfort, Mrs. Duff said, adding: “It's hard to put it behind us when we don't really know what happened — or why.”

        Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Hensley or Lt. Owens at 425-7700.


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