AKRON, Ohio — From the backyard of her Akron home, Lucrecia Tolbert-Rogers wiped away tears as she tried to put into the words a pain that no parent should endure— the loss of a child to violence.
"I feel like I've been shot as well, that I have lost a big part of my body," Tolbert-Rogers said.
Three months after her son, 20-year-old Gage Zirke, was murdered in Akron's Kenmore neighborhood, no one has been arrested. Tolbert-Rogers said she does her best daily to cope with the agonizing void.
"Ultimately, we're still trying to figure out a way to navigate life without him," she said. "I have to keep busy, and if I don't, I will mentally decline."
Tolbert-Rogers is pleased that Summit County Crimestoppers has offered a reward— up to $5,000— for information leading to Zirke's killer.
She's also sending a personal message to the person who fired the shots.
"You thought that you were a man when you pulled the trigger. Be a man and own up to what you have done. Own up to the life you have taken. Be a man about it," she said.
According to Akron police, Zirke was involved in an altercation with someone in the 2300 block of 11th Street SW last July.
Detectives said Zirke tried to drive away in his Chevrolet Malibu, but shots were fired into the car. The vehicle crashed into a tree and Zirke was found dead in the driver's seat.
Tolbert-Rogers said Zirke was her "sunshine" and remembered him for his energy and his deep love for his family.
Zirke was also a former star high school football player in South Carolina where he made headlines as a wide receiver.
He moved to Akron, found his own place to live, and was beginning to make a life for himself, his mother told News 5.
"We found in his belongings that he was creating a budget and documenting all his expenditures," Tolbert-Rogers said.
Lt. Michael Miller said investigators are making "significant progress" on the case, but also believes the new reward could be the extra incentive needed to bring closure to the victim's family.
"The reward is very significant. We believe that and/or hope it will kind of stimulate the conscious of someone," Miller said. "Five thousand dollars is just a small sentiment of what we hope to be an eventual healing of the family and their quest for justice."
Tolbert-Rogers said she has been trying to put on a "brave face" despite the inner turmoil she feels over the death of her son. She finds strength when talking about him and pushing for justice.
"It's not easy. It's not easy at all," she said. "If somebody is knowingly harboring who shot my son, turn him in."
Tipsters can remain anonymous when calling Summit County Crimestoppers at 330-434-COPS.