Black Man Was Found Dead in Kan. Creek in 2004 — and Now Prosecutor Says It Was Racially Motivated
Alonzo Brooks was a homebody and neat freak, who loved nothing more than babysitting his nieces and nephews.
The 23-year-old was the youngest of five siblings. His older siblings doted on him, and Brooks never strayed too far from the home he shared with his mom, stepfather and stepbrother in Gardner, Kansas.
So when he decided to accompany a group of acquaintances to a party on April 3, 2004, his friends and family were surprised.
“Alonzo wasn’t a social-butterfly type,” his best friend Rodney English tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
Says sister Demetria Leslie, “He’s shy. He has to warm up to you. He didn’t like to be around a big crowd of people.”
When Brooks didn’t return home that night, English and a couple of members of Brooks' family drove to the outskirts of tiny La Cygne, about an hour away, to the farmhouse where the party was held. On the side of the road nearby, they found his boots and hat.
“Our thoughts were, ‘Something happened at this party,’” Brooks' sister Esperanza Roberts tells PEOPLE. “We need to get on the phone and talk to people. We need to find out what happened.”
Law enforcement were called and searched the area but couldn’t find Brooks, who was only one of three Black men at the party of 100 or so that night.
The family’s worry turned to dread on May 1 when family members and friends searching for him found him lying in a creek about 200 yards away from the party house.
“It was a horrible experience,” says Roberts. “No family should have to ever go through anything like that.”
For more on Alonzo Brooks' death and his family's quest for answers, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
After the coroner ruled his death as undetermined, the case stalled. But after years of anguish, the family has new hope. Brooks' death and disappearance, which was featured on a recent episode of Netflix’s new Unsolved Mysteries, has been reopened by the FBI and a $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to a conviction.
Stephen McAllister, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas, says he shares the belief of Brooks' family: that he was murdered — and that his death was racially motivated.
“There's just nothing that makes any sense that it would have been some kind of an accident on his part or voluntary,” says McAllister. “There just doesn't seem to be any real plausible explanation other than something bad happened.”
Agents have spoke with partygoers who have never been interviewed before, and recently began administering polygraphs to witnesses. In July, Brooks' body was exhumed, and McAllister believes the autopsy findings will be available by the end of the month.
“Things are shaking loose,” he says. “Things are starting to fall out of the trees. And, I'm confident that we're going to get there. I think it's got some people nervous for the right reasons.”
“The answers are out there,” he adds. “There ought to be a way to give this family peace.”
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Brooks' mother Maria Ramirez is thankful for the renewed attention and hopes it will finally bring her some answers.
“Somebody did something to him,” she tells PEOPLE. “And I know they did. I wish he hadn't gone [to the party]. I have my son’s picture hanging in my living room and I yell at him half the time, ‘Should have kept you’re a-- at home,’ I say. But I have a feeling they will do something this time and get the people or the person who did this to my son.”
“I know he would have had a family and he would have been a good dad,” she adds. “He used to come back behind me and mess my hair up and I used to get so mad at him. Now, when it's windy outside and my hair get messed up, I’ll say ‘All right, stop it, Alonzo.’ It's time for answers.”
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the FBI Kansas City office at 816-512-8200 or the Tips Hotline at 816-474-TIPS, or to submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.