Shortly after Christmas, on Dec. 26, a same-sex female couple and two children were named as victims in a tragic quadruple homicide that has shaken their upstate New York neighborhood, and the country as a whole.
Shanta Myers, 36 and Brandi Mells, 22, and two of Myers' three children, Jeremiah "J.J." Myers, 11 and Shanise Myers, 5, were found slain in their basement apartment. The building's property manager discovered the horrific scene after responding to a call of concern from Mells' mother, who explained she had not heard from her daughter since before the holiday. Court records indicate that the murders likely took place five days prior, at 9 p.m. on Dec. 21.
Myers' eldest son, Isaiah, 15, who had recently moved in with another relative, was out of town at a basketball tournament in Massachusetts when it was discovered that the ghastly crime had unjustly and inexplicably taken the lives of his siblings, mother and her partner. Isaiah reportedly stopped by the home to deliver Christmas presents before leaving the area, but simply thought they had stepped out for a bit when the door remained unanswered.
The quadruple homicide soon made national headlines as the heinous nature of the crime was disclosed during a press conference, where Troy police chief James Tedesco referred to the killings as the "worst savagery" he had witnessed in his 42-year career. Officers familiar with the investigation shared with local reporters under the condition of anonymity that the victims were tied up, bound by their hands and ankles, and that their throats were slit - nightmarish details that further sent a shockwave of grief across the country.
Supporters of the victims and their surviving family and friends include renowned civil rights leader and National Action Network (NAN) Founder Rev. Al Sharpton and Tamika Mallory, a national activist and Co-Chair of the Women's March.
Rev. Sharpton sent public prayers of support to the families of the victims, decrying the violence that continues to tear a part our communities. According to a statement shared exclusively with REVOLT TV, NAN is forming local chapters city-to-city to help victims and support families of such tragedies and will continue to monitor this case.
Mallory also spoke to a victim's father who was devastated about the execution-style murder, adding, "It was touching to hear him talk about what needs to be done to restore order and respect in our communities and how he wants his daughter's death to help further the cause of fighting violence within black and brown communities. This incident is why we work tirelessly to fight and end violence."
As reported, James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 24, both of Schenectady, New York, have been arrested and were each initially charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder in connection with the brutal slayings. Both men were arraigned on Saturday (Dec. 30) and entered pleas of not guilty. On Thursday (Jan. 4) during a preliminary hearing, prosecutors declined to move forward with the original murder charges filed against Mann. Per Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove, authorities on Thursday were unprepared to go ahead with hearings on the original charges. White's attorney, Greg Cholakis, exclaimed in court that there have been legal questions raised pertaining to the evidence used to support the initial charges. A new hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday (Jan. 9).
As reported by the Albany Times Union, the charges have not been dropped but prosecutors requested that White be held on a new murder charge, which accuses White of killing the 11-year-old boy while allegedly burglarizing the home. An anonymous source close to the case stated that the boy was dropped off at the family home while the attacks were happening was killed upon entering. Prosecutors asked that Mann, a parolee, be held while they prepare to charge him with new offenses. Per the report, Mann is on parole after serving a sentence for armed robbery in Queens. He had been released from prison back in June 2017.
While authorities in upstate New York are working tirelessly to find answers surrounding the murders, and prosecutors are considering adding new charges for Mann, over a thousand people have stepped up to contribute financially to help support the surviving teenager and his family.
Additionally, at the time of this report, an anonymous donor has agreed to cover all expenses for the funeral services, in turn allowing the $48,460 collected through GoFundMe to be allocated toward helping Isaiah with living expenses and professional grief support, as well as to later help him attend college. The GoFundMe page, which has since been shared over 5,000 times, was set up by Hollyanne Buntich, the director of human resources at the Troy Boys and Girls Club, of which J.J. was a dedicated and active member for many years.
"He was a quintessential 'Club Kid' who impacted the lives of so many staff, children and teens, parents and volunteers," the page reads. "We are shocked and deeply saddened by this tragedy. It will be deeply felt by all his friends at the Club and throughout the community."
Victim's brother: "We're not loving each other the way we should."
In the wake of the heartbreaking situation, Shanta's brother, Shaun White, spoke with REVOLT TV about how his family is coping with the loss, and offered perspective on how communities at large, and especially people of color, need to collaborate and become proactive to affect positive change and prevent violent acts of hatred from being carried out in the future.
"J.J. was the type of kid that meant a lot to society as a whole because of his heart. He was one of those kids who would take on any challenge and try to find the bright side to pretty much any situation, even though his situation wasn't the best at home," White said. "His little sister had the same personality. Young, bright, full of energy. They wanted to be a part of something and we feel like their lives were taken way before their time and it has affected the entire community and actually the entire country.
"I was just talking with Isaiah, my nephew, yesterday and he's very soft-spoken," he continued. "It really hasn't hit him to the point where he's breaking down crying but you can see the pain in his face. He still has no idea about what happened and why it happened. It's our responsibility as his family members and his friends to try to give him the understanding that retaliation is not going to help the situation. Living with hate is not going to help the situation but finding reasons to love will help the situation and help him heal."
Photo provided by family
A memorial service for Myers and her two children has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 6 at the Troy Middle School, with the family of Mells saying they'd like to hold memorial services for Brandi in Syracuse and New Jersey, where she lived prior to moving to the Capital District. An additional fund has also been set up at the McLoughlin and Mason funeral home for Isaiah.
White also said that black people need to do more to combat the trauma and lack of support in their communities. When people are destroyed by the prison and foster systems, he explained, they're more likely to hurt others with horrific crimes like what happened to his loved ones. White encouraged more recreation and educational programs in inner-city communities, and for families to love their kids and get to know their neighbors.
Photo provided by family
"A lot of people loved these kids and the story itself touched a lot of hearts but the brutality of the event, the fact that these kids were tied up, tortured and then murdered, it just lets you know the day and age that we are living in right now," White said. "People are mentally ill and it's not a concern until it affects you and your family. I think that has to change.
"...We're not necessarily loving each other the way we should. We expect others to love us and help us when we don't even help ourselves. It's traumatic, and I think that because we see devastation every day, some of us, unfortunately, wait until something horrific happens before we want to take a stand or make a change. I think even myself and my family is guilty of that to some degree, because this happened to us."
White and his family members, as well as the Troy Boys and Girls Club and other community leaders, are currently working together to organize a charity basketball tournament. The response was so overwhelming, with over 20 teams from the area expressing interest, that the plans had to be postponed in order to include as many children as possible. As emphasized by White, the intention behind the fundraiser is to help foster a feeling of love and security, all while giving the kids something to be enthusiastic about.
Photo provided by family
"The more unified we are, the more people we can bring together and push forward in a positive direction, the better off we're going to be long-term," White added. He noted that with how involved the Capital Region is with sports, exclaiming that it would be tremendous if larger professional organizations, such as the NFL, NBA and others, stepped up to host local charity events to show support against hatred and violent crime.
"It's just too much going on in our inner cities and we want to police ourselves but we are not equipped to do so. Mentally, emotionally and physically, we just don't have what it takes at this particular point and if we keep going down a path of savage behavior, that won't ever come to fruition," White said. "It's just one of those situations where we have to start holding each other accountable, use our arms to pick each other up instead of pointing fingers. I'm just working diligently, trying to get the message out and trying to get as much support as possible. This is not, like I said before, just for the people in Troy, not just the people in New York, but this is a country-wide issue. This has to be dealt with before it spins further out of control."
Stay tuned to REVOLT TV for further updates to this story.