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‘Popular’ girl, jealous man, protective father collide

Staff photo / Ed Runyan Chris Johnson, left, and his brother Kodie Johnson, are shown at their home recently. Their sister, Sierra Morris, and their step-father, Leroy Morris, were shot to death inside the home Feb. 29.

YOUNGSTOWN — Cierra Morris’s mother, Donna, describes Cierra as “a pretty girl, popular female,” John Bruner III as “jealous,” and Cierra’s father, Leroy, as “very protective.”

Those three personalities collided in a tragic scene on West Judson Avenue the afternoon of Feb. 29, when Cierra, 25, and Leroy, 58, were killed by gunfire.

Bruner, the father of Cierra’s daughter, Jordyn, 5, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder, accused of carrying out an unthinkable crime, leaving the child he and Cierra have together without a mother; and Donna Morris without her daughter and husband — not to mention all of the other lives affected.

“It’s devastating,” Donna said.

She also calls it unimaginable that someone “would just try to take somebody’s life like that without care about, first of all, what it would do to him — let alone their family. Just heartless, a heartless act.”

When asked how she’s coping, she said: “The only way I handle it is I keep walking and talking with God, and I mean He got me through this and every day, makes me strong.”

“It’s just shock,” said Cierra’s brother, Kodie Johnson. “The first few days, I wasn’t myself. I am coping better.”

Donna Morris said the conflict between Cierra and Bruner was substantial, but nobody imagined it would ever produce this kind of violence, including Cierra being shot perhaps more than a dozen times.

“We didn’t have any clue,” Donna said recently when asked whether she or other family members thought Bruner was capable of coming into the house and killing Cierra and her father.

“I didn’t think he would do nothing like that,” she said.

UPS AND DOWNS

Cierra and Bruner had been through ups and downs in their relationship in the past five years. They had mostly been apart, seeing other people, but Bruner indicated he wanted to get back together with Cierra and their daughter, Donna said.

Cierra was well aware that Bruner was jealous and didn’t like her being with other people, Donna said. Cierra managed her social-media accounts in a way to avoid having Bruner see things that would make him angry.

“When she went out a couple weeks ago … some kind of way he found out, and the next day he called, threatening her because she had gone out,” Donna said.

Cierra, who had been back in Youngstown living with Donna and Leroy since November, told her mother about Bruner’s threats.

“I don’t know why she didn’t let the police know, but Cierra wasn’t fearful like that,” Donna said. “She always felt ‘I got God on my side.’ She started talking to the Lord a lot, listening to Gospel music and that, as well as do I, but she didn’t feel like she had to fear that. She would ignore him.”

Attorney David Betras, who represents Bruner, said he would have no comment on any allegations about his client. “I’m still investigating it, (the police) are still investigating it,” he said.

Her brother Kodie helped Cierra last year when Bruner, 30, of Akron, and his parents, who live in Warren, wanted to spend time with Jordyn.

He drove the girl to the Covelli Center a few times, where Bruner’s father would pick her up and take her to Warren. Kodie said his interactions with Bruner were cordial.

“I never had the intention that he would be that type of way,” Kodie said of Bruner being violent.

“He was jealous of it if she went to the club or something like that,” Donna said. “He was always jealous of her, of guys liking her, talking to her because she was pretty popular like that.”

FULL OF LIFE

Donna describes her husband as “a well-known person, a really good guy. He used to laugh and joke all the time. Everybody loved him. He never was any type of violent person or nothing like that, just a real sweetie pie, full of life,” Donna said.

He traveled for his job painting various types of towers for a painting company.

“Her father was very protective of her,” Donna said of Leroy. “Me and him over the years have split up off and on, but it didn’t matter. He always did for her. He always kept in contact with her. He always would come and get her ever since she was a child.”

Cierra and Bruner lived in Georgia with Leroy when Jordyn was small around five years ago. There was friction between Bruner and Leroy that caused Leroy to send Bruner away, Donna said.

Cierra and Bruner stayed in contact after that, but Bruner wanted more. He “faked his own illness” to convince Cierra to move back to Ohio, Donna said.

“He told her he was up in Cleveland Clinic and he was dying,” Donna said. “And she came back home because of that. He kept telling her she couldn’t come to Cleveland to see him. He claimed he was dying from cancer, and she felt sorry for him.

“She still cared for him because they had a child together,” Donna said. Cierra later learned from a Bruner family member that Bruner’s illness was a “hoax,” Donna said.

Cierra and her daughter lived in Houston and Columbus within the past couple of years. She was in a serious relationship in Columbus.

‘STEADY THREATENING’

In November, Kodie moved Cierra and her daughter back to Youngstown. Cierra didn’t want Bruner to know she was back in Ohio.

“She didn’t want John to know she was here because John had been steady threatening her,” Donna said. “He was jealous because she was with that guy.”

Bruner, who worked in trucking and had lived in Akron the past few years, would sometimes threaten to try to take custody of their daughter, Donna said. In recent weeks, Bruner had also demanded that Cierra give him money from her income tax refund.

Donna said she saw a text message from Bruner in which he threatened to kill Cierra and others in the home over the $600.

Cierra had worked as aide in various places where she lived. While back in Youngstown, she was working as an aide for Gateways to Better Living, which provides vocational rehabilitation and transportation.

“She was a wonderful child, a heart of gold. She had a ton of friends, and she just was an outgoing person, and she just loved everybody, and a lot of people loved her,” Donna said of Cierra.

“She was a firecracker,” said Chris Johnson, one of her brothers, who lives out-of -tate but came home to be with his family after the shootings. “I’m gonna miss my little CeCe.”