Jeffery Brooks Sr. remembers his son as independent and caring. At 22, the younger Brooks was just starting to figure out his life and find his purpose. But his journey was upended after he was shot and killed in March.

After he had been reported missing two days prior, Jeffery Brooks Jr. was found with a gunshot wound by Baltimore Police on March 24 in the back of a gas station in Northeast Baltimore. Homicide detectives charged his roommate, Markis Russell, the next day.

“He was trying to become a better man by being a responsible friend, a good uncle and son to me and his mother,” Brooks Sr. said.

He said the amount of love displayed at his son’s funeral was “overwhelming.”

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“More than 200 people showed up and it was invite-only,” he recalled. “That type of outpouring would make some people think about what kind of effect a 22-year-old kid could have on so many people.”

Russell’s arraignment is set for Monday afternoon. Brooks Sr. is commenting publicly for the first time in remembrance of his son and in the hopes the accused killer is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Brooks Sr. fears his family won’t get justice, in part because of what he describes as a lackadaisical approach by police during the search for his son. The family feels they had to act like the detectives on the crime series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and direct investigators to evidence, he said.

Police even publicly lauded the family’s “active participation and cooperation” in the investigation, saying without it, “this case would not have been solved, Jeffrey Brooks, Jr. [sic] would still be missing, and his killer would still be at large.”

Despite that acknowledgment, Brooks Sr. is still displeased with the Baltimore Police Department’s handling of his son’s disappearance. He doesn’t want to see it carry over into the courtroom.

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“Given the history that the family has with BPD during the search for Jeffery, we don’t want a lackadaisical approach during the prosecution,” he said. “And we don’t want the [local] police to take that approach again with someone else in the future.”

Jeffery Brooks Sr. is interviewed outside of the house where his son, Jeffery Brooks Jr., died in March, 2023. Prosecutors allege that Brooks Jr.’s roommate shot and killed Brooks Jr., and attempted to cover up the death.
Jeffery Brooks Sr. is interviewed outside of the house where his son, Jeffery Brooks Jr., died in March 2023. Prosecutors allege that Brooks Jr.’s roommate shot and killed Brooks Jr., and attempted to cover up the death.

Brooks Jr. was the youngest of four children. After graduating from Bard High School Early College in West Baltimore, he wasn’t sure of his future direction, according to his dad. He worked a few odd jobs before joining the Army Reserves in 2022.

“He was a loving person. He wanted to get married and had girlfriend that he had begun making plans to really settle down with,” Brooks Sr. said. “He had dreams, and was starting in to learn how to begin doing more HVAC work. And his backup plan was to follow in my footsteps and be a CDL-licensed driver since he already had the experience from the military.”

Marlo Bryant-Cunningham, Brooks Jr.’s cousin who said she was more like his aunt, said it has been hard to lose someone younger in their family. And she believes Brooks Jr.’s youth largely contributed to his “super-caring nature.”

“Jeffery cared about everyone around him. And I think he was always used to being looked after, but he wanted people to know that he can look after them too,” Cunningham said.

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Brooks Jr. and Russell first met at Bard High School Early College around 2015. The two reconnected in 2022 and became housemates in a Northeast Baltimore home in the 3100 block of Mary Avenue. Both Russell and Brooks were reservists in the the U.S. military.

Sgt. Reuben Williams, who trained Brooks Jr. in Delaware for his Advanced Individual Training, said Brooks Jr. was proactive and always ready to help.

“Brooks’ death was a loss for the army and the nation. And with Russell also having been a serviceman, it hits a little harder and the whole situation is really sad,” he said.

Brooks Sr. said he and the family contacted the police on March 23 and told an officer who arrived on the scene that Brooks Jr.’s car was missing and he wasn’t answering his cellphone.

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Brooks Sr. said he knew his son was supposed to have a conversation regarding back pay on the gas and electric bill with Russell the night before. Brooks Jr. paid a $745.21 December bill and a $652 bill in February, and Russell owed him half of both bills, he said.

Responding officers took a missing person’s report from Brooks Sr. and family and left without going into his son’s home, Brooks Sr. said, which surprised him because it seemed like a basic first step in the investigation.

Brooks Sr. called around to see try to find his son — confirming with his employer that he didn’t show for work and that his car could not be found at places he frequented.

After multiple calls that kept going to his son’s voicemail, Brooks Sr. went back to his son’s residence.

When he initially arrived at the home, he didn’t think anything was wrong. Russell, he said, “seemed calm and collected.” But when the father went into the house and reached the top of the stairs, he saw carpet cleaner and a fan running.

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Something felt off, but his top concern was finding his son, he said. So he left to keep searching.

Later that day, he circled back to wait outside the house in the hopes his son would show up. It was then he saw Russell leave with a wet vacuum. He knew something was wrong and called police again, urging them to investigate further.

According to charging documents, when police spoke with Russell over the phone, he said he and Brooks Jr. “had a verbal altercation due to money which led to a physical altercation.”

Russell also told the responding officer that he “used the wet vacuum to clean up the apartment due to having a dog in the home and the house needed to be cleaned because they were moving,” according to charging documents.

Brooks Sr. questions why Russell hadn’t been brought in for questioning face-to-face or why the Mary Avenue home had not been taped off, given the fact that there was physical altercation, he said.

His son’s partner, who had access to the apartment, also told police the carpet was wet and there was a red discoloration.

The 3100 block of Mary Avenue is where Jefferey Brooks Jr. died in March 2023. Prosecutors allege that Brooks Jr.’s roommate shot and killed Brooks Jr. and attempted to cover up the death.

“We had to keep calling them out to show them all the evidence of something other than my son just leaving leaving the house on his own accord. ... They weren’t doing anything with it and we had to be our own CSI,” Brooks Sr. said.

Police did send out two more officers. By March 25, BPD’s homicide unit got involved and the Hot Desk, the system that blasts information on missing persons throughout the city, had been notified. The search for Brooks Jr. picked up.

Had police reacted quicker to the “unusual and out-of-character” signs, Brooks Jr. would have been found sooner, his father said.

Brooks Sr. still thinks about his conversation with Russell — before he suspected the roommate might be to blame.

“Markis [Russell] knew exactly where he was and he lied to my face about my namesake,” Brooks said. “Our family believes in God and that he doesn’t make mistakes. But worldly me is still very upset. Angry, even.”

Baltimore Police declined to address the family’s concerns or provide additional details, citing the ongoing investigation with the state’s attorney’s office. They noted that within 48 hours of the missing person’s report, an arrest was made.

Jeffrey Brooks, Jr.
Jeffrey Brooks, Jr. (Baltimore Police Department)

According to charging documents, homicide detectives also found that Russell had rented a U-Haul for about 3 1/2 hours that Friday afternoon in attempt to clean the crime scene.

The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office could not comment at this time, either. ”This is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment on anything outside of what has been provided in the charging documents,” the statement read.

As the case starts to wind its way through the court system, Brooks Sr. said he hopes his son’s former roommate gets life without parole.

“We’ll never know what Jeffery could’ve been,” he said. “And he should not have that opportunity do something more than be behind bars, because he didn’t give my son an opportunity to decide to live another day. ... he took all those options away from my son.”

penelope.blackwell@thebaltimorebanner.com