While growing up in a family of nine children, Blake Berry of Columbus always was recognized as the leader among other siblings.
But that role was lost on Independence Day when the 24-year-old construction worker was dropped off at Midtown Medical Center with a fatal gunshot wound, his mother said.
"He was my oldest son and yes, we did look up to him," Angelia Sharp said. "Every time somebody needed something, he was always there for us."
Berry is among nine homicides recorded this year in the city, including six still unsolved by the Columbus Police Department. Detectives haven't found the scene where Berry was killed and the childhood friend who dropped him off at the hospital has given police very little useful information.
"I didn't expect him to take my child up there and leave him like that," Sharp said. "He has known my son since he was a little boy. I can't understand why he left him up there. He didn't tell anybody nothing."
Police Maj. Gil Slouchick, head of the Investigative Services Bureau, won't comment on any details in the six unsolved cases but said detectives are busy checking leads.
"Somebody out there has information that could clear everyone of these unsolved cases," the major said last week during an interview at the Public Safety Center. "They are just a phone call away."
In addition to Berry, Zachery Leonard Clark, 35, also died on July 4 after he was shot multiple times in the upper torso at 1031 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Johann Gamble, 38, was gunned down around 9:36 p.m. Monday in front of his two daughters while he was outside his Pembrook Court apartment. Keith Turner, 24, was fatally shot in the head as he drove in the northbound lane of Interstate 185 on July 11. The shooting near the Cusseta Road overpass shut down a section of the road for seven hours.
The other two unsolved slayings include 36-year-old Reno Fannin, who was found shot in the chest at a 225 23rd Ave. home on June 7, and Jumunn Morgan, 29, who was the victim of multiple gunshot wounds on April 8 in his Rigdon Road apartment.
To gather information on a case, Slouchick said police rely on witnesses and people who know something.
"That is a difficult thing for us," he said. "We have to go out and investigate who was in the area and, talk to them and see if they will tell us what they saw. If somebody tells us something, we have to go back out and corroborate what they tell us."
Slouchick said detectives also have to deal with social media and information posted on the web.
"We can't take it seriously," he said. "When leads come in, we take them seriously."
While Columbus has six cases unsolved this year, the clearance rate for the violent crimes is more than 80 percent compared with the national average of about 60 percent, said Police Lt. Bill Rawn who tracks crime statistics.
"We are over the national average," he said. "We have a good clearance rate."
So far this month, Columbus has recorded four homicides. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said it's unfortunate the killings tend to happen in clusters. "It is intolerable," she said. "It is something that frankly is more of a social unraveling of the fabric of the community than it is a law enforcement issue."
Tomlinson, who also serves as the city's public safety director, said summer months tend to be challenging everywhere.
"The recent murders, we are still working them," the mayor said. "A lot of times, it relates to alcohol, drugs and firearms, parties that get out of control with pushing and shoving and things of that nature. They are unnecessary. Due to risky behavior, not saying it is for all of them, certainly we are not going to tolerate it as community."
With the possibility of more homicides occurring in clusters, the mayor said she hasn't given up on her unsuccessful plan to add seven extra police investigators.
"I intend to go back to council and ask for seven or eight more," she said. "The reason why is we need to be prepared in unfortunate circumstances. We need to create temporarily a homicide unit to deal with a cluster of murders that may occur. We don't have that kind of flexibility. We have a lot of investigators working the different crimes and they have to get pulled off to handle violent crimes and murders when they occur. If you want to do something for public safety, police officers, we need to be finding a way to get more investigators in police department."
Investigators are needed to get people involved in harmful behavior locked up.
"I think anytime you can get a suspect off the street in an ironclad case, you have just helped prevent another crime," mayor said. "That is something unfortunate in too many instances. We need investigators to get those in harmful behavior locked up properly and as quickly as possible."
The mayor said a request for more detectives would be an annual cost of $490,000 to the city's budget.
"To talk about that kind of money, you are usually talking about a new budget year. I can tell you it's going to be on my radar."
While police continue their search for suspects in the slayings, Sharp hopes someone will give police credible information that leads to an arrest in her son's death.
"I'd say thank you for giving information so my son can rest in peace," she said.
She still thinks about the last time she saw her son just hours before he died.
"The only thing I know is I saw my son at 11:45 p.m. Friday and the last word he told me was I love you mama," she said. "The last words my son said to me, I ain't never going to forget."
Since the beginning of this year, the Columbus Police Department has recorded nine homicides in the city. Here is a list of deaths over the last five years and how many are still open. There is partial list for the first six months of this year.
HOMICIDES IN COLUMBUS
Year Homicides Cleared by arrests
2010 20 18 2011 17 15 2012 17 17
2013 22 16
2014 22 16
2015 9 3
Note: While some cases are unsolved, police said warrants have been issued for suspects in slayings during 2014, 2013 and 2011.
Source: Columbus Police Department