3News’ exclusive series exams autopsy reports, photos as LeBron James eulogizes sister figure and her unsolved shooting death.
AKRON, Ohio — To those she loved, today marks 221 days of endless thoughts: The who, the why — especially the why, over and over.
Who would want to kill Ericka Weems?
“It just doesn’t make sense,” her sister Shermaine Weems told 3News Investigates. “Either way around, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Yes, she lived alone in a high-crime area off Copley Road in Akron. But Ericka was, by all measures, a success, raised in a solid family that embraced education, always taking the safe route.
She earned two college degrees, including a master’s. She owned her own home and her own child day care business. At age 37, she was an achiever with famous lifelong friends like local NBA legend LeBron James, who was raised in Akron and was so close with the Weems family he still called Ericka his sister.
“Everyone’s been asking, and I said I was on my way back home to my sister’s celebration,” a teary-eyed James said during his eulogy of Ericka. “They said, ‘I thought you were an only child.’ I said, ‘You really don’t know my story.'”
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Ericka went silent last Halloween weekend. Calls went directly to voicemails, text messages untapped.
Shermaine, as older siblings tend to do, grew worried and went along with her husband to make sure Ericka was all right. Sadly, she wasn’t.
Shermaine’s mind raced immediately when she and her husband found a backdoor of the Hardesty Boulevard home unlocked on the afternoon of Nov 2. Inside, just children’s toys from Ericka’s day care business, and quiet.
In the upstairs, they found Ericka, slumped on her bed, both feet dangling off the side.
Photographs taken by investigators and viewed this week by 3News Investigates show her body partially wrapped by a green bath towel. Her cell phone, the one Shermaine had called all weekend, was still in one hand. A red solo cup was in the other.
Tattoos on each side of her chest read “Here today 1961” and “Gone tomorrow 2006,” an homage to her mother Brenda, who died of cancer at the age of 45.
A series of investigative photos suggest Ericka Weems was seated on her bed near a nightstand when she was shot three times. Based on the towel, investigators believe she had either just showered or was about to shower. They think she had been dead at least a day before she was found.
There were no obvious signs of a struggle or a break-in. A few items, including her purse, were missing. Other valuables were left behind.
Autopsy records obtained by 3News Investigates reveal she was shot three times with a small-caliber gun. One bullet, fired from “intermediate range” through her right temple, caused the fatal wound.
The other wounds caused “superficial” damage, according to the report. Four bullet fragments in all were recovered, but no firearm or shell casings.
Ericka never married, nor did she have any children of her own. Family say she broke off an engagement to a man a few years back and was dating a man at the time of her death. Both men have cooperated with detectives and are not considered suspects, police said this week.
Her celebration of life service reflected how she lived. James made the trip from Los Angeles. He was a St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate and remains a close friend of Ericka’s brother, Brandon Weems.
LeBron reflected on his life with the Weems family, joking of times when a young Ericka was “being annoying.” He cited the role her parents, Brenda and Darrell Weems, played in his growth beginning when he was just 8 years old.
“Everyone understands the angel we lost here on earth, but know she is in a bigger place,” James said. “We will find justice, and we will get justice I promise you that.”
But justice has been fleeting. The case appears to have stalled, and police concede they have no suspect, no solid leads.
It appears Ericka was killed by someone she knew, or by an intruder she did not expect. Shermaine recalled a text Ericka sent to a male friend that read, “I opened my door to a complete stranger thinking it was you LOL”.
Everything about that text is out of character, including using the abbreviation for “laughing out loud,” Shermaine said.
“If there’s a stranger at the back door, she’s going call the police or my husband if there’s a man at my back door,” she added. “It’s somebody who knows her, somebody she trusted.”
The Weems family say they’re frustrated by the lack of progress shown by Akron police detectives. Darrell Weems, who struggled with the death of his daughter, passed away last month, never knowing what happened. He was 61.
Shermaine and the family fear Ericka Weems will become just another cold case, but police Lt. Michael Miller insists there is no lack of empathy. Instead, it’s a lack of evidence and a lack of eyewitnesses to come forward, despite a $15,000 reward.
“We want the family to know we have not forgotten Ericka,” he said. “We very much want to solve the case … and give the Weems family some closure and a sense of justice.”
To the Weems family, they crave that closure and the justice that’s eluded them so far. But they’re losing faith. They need a break.
“I don’t want her to be just another person pushed under the rug,” he sister pleaded. “I don’t want a cold case. I don’t want to know 15 years down the line what happened … especially when it seems like we can figure it out right now.”
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