On the evening of April 17, 2009, Jelani Brinson, 24, called his mother, Alyce Hamilton, on her cell phone. Hamilton, who was at the Mad Jack's Sports Cafe in Brooklyn Park, MN, never heard the phone ring over the din of the crowded restaurant, and Brinson didn't leave a message.
Jelani Brinson disappeared later that night.
Amazingly, three of Brinson's friends say they were all at Mad Jack's that night, and that Brinson probably made the call to his mother from inside the restaurant. Mother and son never bumped into each other.
"It's just eerie that we were both there and never saw each other," said Hamilton.
The friends, as it turns out, could be the last people to have seen Brinson.
After leaving Mad Jack's, they all went to a friend's home located on the 600 block of Kennedy Street near the Anoka County Fairgrounds in Anoka, MN. Friends say that at about 10 p.m, just five minutes after they arrived, Brinson abruptly left the residence without saying goodbye; and there weren't any problems prompting him to leave.
Hamilton, an emergency room nurse, called police late Saturday afternoon after her son missed work and failed to visit his daughter. He also had not picked up his car.
She told the media, "I keep calling his cell phone to see if someone might answer, but it just goes into voice mail. I don't know what to think, but I don't think it's good."
The authorities looked into the possibilty that Brinson may have hopped a slow-moving train. Hamilton said it would be totally out of character for Brinson to take off without calling someone first or to not call her back.
"If I call, he will call me back," she said. "Even if I don't leave a message, if he sees that my numbers come up, he's always called me back."
His girlfriend, Dena Anderson of Eagan, agreed that the disappearance was out of character. She said Brinson had never not shown up to watch their daughter and had always communicated to her if he wasn't able to watch her.
Police said that Brinson had a clean record and that there was no immediate sign that drugs or alcohol were a factor in the disappearance
"We're trying to sort out relationships between him and other people and their intentions," said Police Chief Phil Johanson.
Clues found during search for Jelani Brinson
Hamilton and dozens of others began searching the morning of Sunday April 19 with police and three search dogs. Brinson's winter hat and one of his new Adidas tennis shoes were found on the other side of a neighbor's wooden fence near railroad tracks, just across the street from where he was last seen. The other shoe was found south of the tracks in an industrial area near Hwy. 10 and St. Francis Boulevard in Anoka.
Search dogs tracked Brinson's scent from near his friend's home in Anoka to an area about 1.5 miles west. The scent trail ended about 100 yards behind the Outpost Bar. His family viewed the bar's security tapes but didn't see him, Police Chief Phil Johanson said.
See a map of the area
The following afternoon, police and fire rescue crews began searching in and around the Rum River in Anoka.
Jelani Brinson found
The location is about 1,500 feet from where Brinson was last seen--across the street and over some railroad tracks from the home on Kennedy Street. Brinson's body did not have on shoes, yet Brinson's socks were clean. Investigators say this means Brinson didn't walk into the pond on his own; he was placed there.
The Anoka County medical examiner's office conducted an autopsy and reported that the cause of Jelani Brinson's death was inconclusive. No marks, signs of injury/trauma, or foul play were found during the examination, and there were no narcotics or alcohol in his system. The autopsy also ruled out anatomical causes such as a heart attack or a brain aneurism, and even drowning. The autopsy revealed that Brinson died before he entered the water.
Brinson's wallet was found on his body, which seems to rule out robbery as a motive. Investigators have not found anything else to go on.
Sheriff's Lt. Paul Sommer said there were no signs of a fight where where Brinson's tennis shoes and hat were found, and his friends have cooperated with the police.
"The coroner couldn't say why he died. That's what makes this investigation so difficult," says Sommer. "It is particularly frustrating because normally in a situation like this we expect certain things to be apparent. If he's found in a pond, you'd think he drowned. He did not. Or if he was dumped there, you'd think you'd find an anatomical cause of death or a drug overdose. That was not there either. We have very little to go on."
About Jelani Brinson
Alyce Hamilton said her son, who graduated from high school at Fourth Baptist Christian School in north Minneapolis, was recently promoted at the local Sprint store where he worked. He and girlfriend, Dena Anderson, have a 9-month-old daughter, Zion, who he was crazy about. The couple lived apart, but he cared for his daughter two days a week. Anderson said Brinson talked about marriage often.
He was active in his church, and his faith makes it unlikely he would have harmed himself, Hamiliton has said.
Brinson's parents were divorced, and he had been living with his father, Donnie, who was helping him to care for his daughter. Donnie Brinson was watching his grandaughter on the night his son disappeared.
Read Jelani's blog
A family statement released by Brinson's godmother Mamie Singleton, said, "The Brinson and Hamilton Families are deeply saddened by the lost of their beloved son, Jelani Dante Brinson. Jelani was 24 years old and very involved with his spiritual growth and development. He was a beloved son and brother. He was also a devoted father to his 9-month old daughter. Jelani had a loving relationship with the mother of his daughter. He was loved by his many friends and relatives. We will miss him dearly. The circumstances of Jelani’s passing are not completely clear. We do know that he had a joyous spirit that was manifested by frequent laughter and numerous acts of kindness. He is survived by his parents, Mr. Donnie Brinson and Ms. Alyce M. Hamilton, his brother, Mr. Jamari L. Brinson, and sister, Kai Z. Brinson, his daughter, Zion Melissa Grace, and Zion’s mother, Dena L. Anderson. Funeral arrangements will be announced early next week. We are deeply grateful for all of the love and support we have received—and thankful for all of our blessings."
The day before Brinson's body was found, his girlfriend Dena learned she was pregnant with their second child. She has since named the child, a little boy, Jelani Donte Brinson Jr.--after his father.
"It's so sad that he didnt' know about his little son," Hamilton said through tears. "Two children will never know their father. And for what?" (Star Tribune, 04/09/11).
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is should call the sheriff's office at 763-427-1212.
Facts of Interest
Name/age: Jelani Brinson, 24
Last seen: 4/17/09, 10:30 p.m., Anoka, MN
Recovered: 4/25/09, 1:00 p.m., Greenhaven Golf Course, Anoka MN
Physical Description: black, 5'9", 150 pounds, hair in cornrows.
Last seen wearing black shirt, black hoodie and blue jeans.
Investigating Agency: Anoka County Sheriff, 763-427-1212.
Published: 4/21/09. Updated: 4/14/11.