ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — It's now been two years since Carnell Sledge, 40, and Katherine Brown, 33, were shot and killed in a double homicide in the quiet Rocky River Reservation. Their killer is still on the loose, in spite of a reward that has grown to $100,000.
It happened just after 5 p.m. on June 4, 2019, in a parking lot north of the Lorain Road Bridge in the park.
According to authorities, Sledge and Brown arrived at the parking lot around 5:04 p.m., got out of their cars and sat down together on a nearby bench. The two had been friends for more than a decade.
Sometime between 5:08 and 5:15 p.m. an unknown person shot both of them. Brown’s body was found in the water. She had been shot once in the head. Sledge was found on the ground nearby. He had been shot multiple times in the head, authorities said.
Just minutes later, at 5:18 p.m., two kayakers found their bodies and called 911.
Despite the location being in a high-traffic area for both cars and people walking through, the shooter slipped away unnoticed, and there were no known witnesses to the crime.
Federal authorities join the hunt
In 2020, the Cleveland Division of the FBI told News 5 that the agency was joining the investigation because the deaths of Sledge and Brown "was such a heinous and violent crime in a public area."
The FBI said the attack was done in a very brazen and specific manner and the agency has "no reason to believe it was random," but it's also not known the two were targeted.
Special Agent Vicki Anderson-Gregg said it was a busy day in the park on the evening Sledge and Brown where shot. The park was full of joggers, kayakers, bicyclists and people driving through.
"We just feel like somebody probably saw something," Anderson told News 5 this week. "They may not even have realized that they saw, you know, whether it was a vehicle or person walking by or anything."
A witness to the slayings could hold the key to solving the crime.
"We're here two years later. That person could have a vital piece of information that we need," Anderson said.
A peaceful park
Prior to their deaths, the last time there was a homicide in the Rocky River Reservation was more than 20 years ago. Cleveland Metroparks rangers said the killings were an isolated incident and the overall safety of the parks isn't in question.
According to Metroparks police, hundreds of tips have come into the agency, as well as to the FBI and CrimeStoppers, but nothing has panned out.
"Somebody out there knows something. Somebody out there heard something," said Cleveland Metroparks Police Chief Katherine Dolan. "They told a friend something. They saw something."
Richard McIntosh, who works with CrimeStoppers, said despite the killings, he doesn't believe the park itself is dangerous.
"Does that mean they're [the shooter] dangerous to the park system? No, because this person may never have come to the park system again," McIntosh said. "But anybody who commits an act of violence certainly is dangerous and we want to get that person off the street."
Brown's family speaks out
It's been an ordeal for Brown's family. After the killing, investigators touched base with the family to keep them apprised of the situation, Brown's sister Alex Zuban said. But as time went by, communication got fewer and farther between—because investigators were running out of data and tips to comb through.
"When they actually had data to give us, they would call us, but then as time has gone on it has slowly gotten more and more quiet," Zuban said.
Zuban still feels the pain of losing her sister.
"You deal with the pain, but it never, ever, ever ceases to feel. It takes your breath away," she said. "Missing Kate. It hits you every single day. You’ll just be going on with your life and all of a sudden the memories are back."
Zuban continued, "Remembering that this happened and that she will never be at a family party again or you can't call her. It's the worst feeling in the world and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."
Brown's family said they will never stop trying to figure out what happened and who did it.
"There are just so many unknowns and I think that's what's the hardest part of all of this. You just don't know," Brown's older sister Lauren Rao said.
How someone could get away with murder in broad daylight is a mystery Brown's family is still trying to wrap their heads around.
"There's no evidence and there hasn't been a single suspect. No suspect. No getaway car. No evidence. No weapon," Rao said. "Whoever committed this crime either is the luckiest person in the world or executed this perfectly."
Katherine's mother, Kim Brown, hopes someone, somewhere saw something.
"A beautiful sunny day and nobody heard a thing? Nobody saw anything? It was right at rush hour, right when cars are just coming through one right after the other," she said.
But Brown's mother isn't giving up hope.
"Someday we will get justice. I know deep down that it will happen," she said.
The reward grows
The FBI initially offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the homicides.
Within four months, that amount increased to $30,000 when the FBI raised it by $5,000 and Crime Stoppers of Cuyahoga County pitched in another $5,000.
In February 2020, Brown’s family contributed $70,000, bringing the award up to a total of $100,000 for help in solving the case.
"There's up to $100,000 reward for information that leads to a successful prosecution in this case," Anderson-Gregg said. "It's not going to bring back their loved ones, but it'll provide them an answer to what happened."
How you can help
Anyone with information can call the Cleveland FBI at 216-522-1400, the Metroparks police dedicated tip line at 440-331-5219 or Crime Stoppers at 216-252-7463. Tipsters can remain anonymous.
CLICK HERE to read News 5's full coverage of the Rocky River homicides.
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