A day of killing

By Christine Keeling

and Ashley Luthern



The city recorded three homicides Wednesday, bringing the total to 22 this year — three more than this time last year.

Stephen Cortner, 30, and Shanell Jackson, 23, were found shot to death just before 2 a.m. in an upstairs bedroom of a home at 2907 Mahoning Ave. on the West Side.

About 10:30 a.m., a black man about 25 years old was found face-down in a lot on the corner of Knapp Street and Gerwig Avenue on the East Side with gunshot wounds.

Police have identified the man, but would not release his name Wednesday afternoon because his family had yet to be notified. Detectives estimate the man died between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, when a passerby called police and reported a body in a field.

Detectives said that man’s killing does not appear to have any link to the killings of Cortner and Jackson.

Jackson was found on a bed with a pillow partially covering her face and an apparent gunshot wound to the left side of her head, police said. Her 2-month-old daughter was next to her body and unharmed.

Cortner was lying on the floor at the base of the bed in a large pool of blood with an apparent gunshot wound to his upper body, officers said.

Dr. Joseph S. Ohr, Mahoning County deputy coroner, was at the scene and will conduct an autopsy today. Dr. Ohr said Cortner and Jackson were shot multiple times.

A man who lives at the Mahoning Avenue home and called police when he saw Cortner and Jackson was questioned by authorities. He is not considered a suspect, Police Chief Rod Foley said.

Cortner pleaded guilty to possession of drugs last March and in March 2008.

Jackson pleaded guilty to theft in June 2010.

In September, police were called to the address for a report of people with guns in an argument.

Foley said the Wednesday incident didn’t look like a burglary and there were no signs of forced entry.

“This home was targeted for a reason,” he said.

Although it appears this was not a random act, police have been trying to ratchet up presence on the West Side because they are seeing more vacant homes and drug activity, Foley said. Those efforts need to be followed by code enforcement, he added.

Wednesday was the first time in recent years that three homicides were reported on the same day. In January 2008, six people — including four children — were killed in a fatal arson on the city’s East Side. In January 2007, three men and a woman were found shot to death in a South Side home.

Wednesday was the second time within two months that an infant has been found at a homicide scene. On Oct. 8, 20-year-old Tequon Sharpe was found shot to death in his South Side residence. Police said his 10-month-old daughter, of whom he had custody, was lying on his body but was not hurt.

In the latest case, Jackson’s infant daughter was found lying face down and partially covered in a blanket next to Jackson, according to reports. The child is in the custody of Mahoning County Children Services, police said.

“She is still in our care, and we are pursuing possible placement with family,” said Denise Stewart, the agency’s executive director, Wednesday afternoon. “It’s such a tragedy, and we just want work with the family.”

Jackson’s grandmother, Peggy Jackson, said two older siblings have been in her care. The family, she said, is “coping.”

Experts say research shows that children at that young age usually don’t remember events firsthand.

Christopher A. Wall, Mayo Clinic assistant professor of psychiatry, said children under 1-year-old are pre-verbal and don’t remember things in the same manner as adults.

“...They remember through touch or sensation but not necessarily on a language basis,” Wall said. “... In one way, they may be able to learn of it from others, but they will not in and of themselves be able to recall the event, in my view or based on theory, from a firsthand account.”

Sometimes children who lose a caregiver at this age could develop reactive attachment disorder. In such cases, children need a strong connection with someone after the event.

“The most important thing at this early stage is attachment. ... If you lose a mom at that stage and don’t have a good nurturing, warm provider that can keep you fed and cuddle up close, that’s the biggest risk for these kids under the age of 1,” Wall said.

“A little kid left crying hour after hour, along with the health concerns, there would be this tragedy with emotional development: ‘I needed someone, and no one was there.’”

That can create an insecure view of the world, Wall said.

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