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It’s not right to say that B.J. Jordan has been forgotten.
Harrisburg detectives and Dauphin County (PA) prosecutors still think about the 14-year-old who was just a kid, doing kid things when his life ended in a very grown-up way.
But few who knew him in life still inquire about his death — how he was shot in a Harrisburg alley and left to die face down in the street, clutching the unopened gummi bears and soda he had just bought at a gas station convenience store.
No teachers or schoolmates, who would now be in their early 20s, ever call police. None of his foster parents ever inquire about the slain boy’s unsolved case.
There are no posters hanging, no family-driven news stories to keep his face and his story out there.
Until about a year ago, his maternal grandmother had been getting updates from the Dauphin County Victim/Witness office, but the information was minimal.
The case is stone cold. It’s been that way almost from the beginning.
William — B.J. for short — died March 2, 2004. He was alone, near a Dumpster, surrounded by
“If it weren’t for police and the DA’s office, this kid would be forgotten,” said homicide detective Don Heffner.
Heffner doesn’t even have a single picture of the boy that isn’t post-mortem.
And while detectives have been working on it a lot lately, most of their progress has been just ruling out bad information that had sidetracked investigators for almost eight years.
Bottom line: They need a break. They need someone to care.
“There was nothing this kid had done to anybody, besides running away and having a troubled family life, he was just a kid,” Heffner said.
That leaves Heffner combing through a file hoping this time he’ll see something no one has seen before. Something that might answer the question: Who would randomly kill a child?
A kid so innocent that his fateful mistake was sneaking out of his foster home late at night to buy candy and soda.
Who took a gun, pointed it at B.J.’s side as he stood in a Harrisburg alley, cocked the weapon and pulled the trigger?
A LOT OF FALSE LEADS
B.J. was in eighth grade. He loved basketball and art, and Playstation 2.
His mom died when he was 7 months old, and he was living in a foster home on Herr Street. It was the latest of several places B.J. had tried to call home.
He had some mental disabilities and went to the Wordsworth Academy, a special-needs school in Harrisburg.
Almost every night he would sneak out to go to the A-Plus convenience store near Cameron and Herr streets and buy candy and soda. His foster parents had to hold half of his allowance money so he didn’t spend all of it on the sweet treats.
The night he was killed was a school night, Monday going into Tuesday. His grandmother had given him $20 that day. It was a late birthday gift — he turned 14 just a few weeks before.
The security camera at the gas station shows him walking in and out of the store after midnight.
Then, B.J. stopped to take a leak in an alley behind the station at Herr and Monroe streets. He was found dead at 12:30 a.m. by a woman coming from the same store. The change from that $20 was still in his pocket. No one even rolled him over.
Homicide Detective Don Heffner has been involved in the case from the beginning, but took over as lead investigator last year. He has little to work with, and when he talks about the case, his words are laced with frustration.
Bother is written all over his face.
“His only crime was sneaking out the window and getting candy,” he said.
When Heffner got the file last year, he decided that before he could move forward with the case, he first needed to go back.
Right after it happened, police had interviewed neighborhood kids, thinking that some kind of rivalry might have been the motive.
Tall tales had developed among the youths, leading police down trails that were completely useless. “That led us down a lot of wrong paths,” Marsico said.
Heffner had an inkling that might be the case, so he went back to those kids — many of them now grown with children of their own.
“They’ve grown up substantially,” Heffner said. “And they’ve come forward and said, ‘Listen, we were stupid and we knew nothing about this kid. They were basically kids interjecting themselves in a homicide they knew nothing about. And now they wish they hadn’t done it. They’re sorry they’ve done it, and wished us the best of luck, but unfortunately, it took a lot of our resources down the wrong path. And I think it’s really the cause of stalling this investigation.”
Discounting that bad information is good. But it doesn’t have them much closer to finding B.J.’s killer.
B.J.’s short life was tough, but there was nothing in his family history that gave police clues. There were no insurance policies. He had no criminal history.
Heffner thinks it’s still very possible B.J. was a robbery target, or that his death was a case of mistaken identity. But he has no real evidence of either.
“What we need is public participation,” Heffner said. “We need that person to step up, who maybe wasn’t there but had a conversation with the shooter. I need somebody to say, you know what, this has gone on long enough. This young person deserves justice just like everybody does who is a victim of violent crime.”
NO PUBLIC CLAMORING
Authorities had hoped that a Crime Stoppers award might do that.
After all, it seems improbable that no one still cares.
“That is a shame, it really is,” Marsico said. “Maybe just because of the family structure; he came from a troubled family.”
His grandmother, Barbara Jackson, couldn’t be found for this story. Messages left with a phone number associated with a man identified at the funeral as B.J.’s brother went unanswered. And the state Department of Public Welfare does not still have records on Jordan’s foster parents.
In July, when the city had its most recent homicide, Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick talked about a disturbing culture of death in this city.
It’s expected, he said. And to a degree, it is accepted.
Is that why there’s not a public clamoring seeking justice for B.J.? Has any outrage over his death been lost to indifference?
The lack of a close-knit family might have played a role.
Take, for example, the case of Tracy Kroh. She went missing Aug. 5, 1989, in the square in Millersburg. The 17-year-old is now presumed dead, but as recently as 2008, her family was still looking for new ways to keep her disappearance fresh in everyone’s minds.
Kroh’s sisters bought a billboard on Route 225 in Halifax Twp. that year, hoping it would bring some new leads.
“[B.J.] doesn’t have that family structure,” Hetrick said.
“You can keep investigations alive when there is family pressure, but when there’s not, the case is always open. But unless there’s new leads, where do you go? What do you do?”
Douglas Teti, a Penn State University professor of human development and family studies, said the justice system isn’t the only place where family is a big part of the equation.
Studies in hospitals show that patients with strong support systems get better faster and get sick less frequently than people who are on their own.
“When you have people who care about each other, they are not going to let things go as readily,” Teti said. “My feeling is that if you have people strongly, emotionally attached to someone who dies, they want to get to the bottom of the murder.”
Police rarely ever forget a case just because the victim has no family. What family does is drive a public campaign, often generating leads.
“I have the skull of a young [woman] who we found in Swatara Twp.,” Hetrick said. “It is amazing. More than once I’ve sat back and I’ve reflected: That’s a young [woman] that just went missing and there’s no one inquiring. But we have a Potter’s Field, filled with John Does. There’s no names.”
That skull, police think, belongs to a white, petite 20-to-26 year-old woman. She would have been between 4-foot-11 and 5-1. Her death was most likely a homicide.
She disappeared within five years of the 1997 discovery of her remains.
In B.J.’s case, there might be another component working against him. There is a calloused culture where Jordan was killed. Death is no stranger to Allison Hill. It rarely shocks, or mystifies.
Hetrick explains it with this example:
“I actually worked a crime scene once, this had a profound affect on me: A man shot his girlfriend four or five times on the sidewalk.
“We were working the scene and people started coming out on porches and ordered beer and pizza so they could watch us like a C.S.I. program. They were so accustomed to this that it’s almost like a TV program.”
Why B.J.’s case hasn’t been prominent might be just as puzzling as how he died.
But one thing is clear to Heffner and his team: There is always someone who knows something.
They just need that someone to come forward.
Crime Stoppers of Dauphin County is offering a reward of up to $5,000.00 for information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of the person and/or persons responsible for this homicide.
CrimePAY$ $5,000 Reward TipLine 1-888-755-TIPS (8477)