YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — As a toddler, Brandon Leonelli survived cancer.
But as a 24-year-old man, he could not survive the streets of Youngstown. He was gunned down Sept. 27 at his Russell Avenue home. The case is unsolved.
His aunt Dawn King and grandmother Essie Treharne, both of Youngstown, are both frustrated in the progress of the case while also horribly missing the young man they said was “feisty” and full of “spunk.”
Leonelli was a Struthers High School graduate who liked to ride four-wheelers and was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He worked in landscaping and had just moved into the Russell Avenue home where he was killed.
As a child, he was stricken with T Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma and was undergoing chemotherapy when he was 3, but he was able to beat the disease.
City police Detective Sgt. Nick Bailey, the lead investigator on the case, said his investigation has been hampered by inconsistencies in witness statements and also a lack of cooperation among some witnesses.
Bailey said the case has not been forgotten. He was doing the legwork on it this week.
King and Treharne both said they thought Leonelli may have been selling drugs, and Bailey said he thinks his murder is drug-related.
But his relatives said that is still no excuse for someone to kill him, and they want to know who is responsible.
King and Treharne both said that Leonelli could be fiery.
“We bumped heads. He had a mouth on him,” King said.
“But he had a heart of gold,” Treharne added. “He’d do anything for anybody.”
Leonelli was shot to death at about 3 a.m. Sept. 27 at his home in the 3000 block of Russell Avenue on the lower West Side. Bailey said he thinks Leonelli knew the person who killed him and Leonelli may have at first been the victim of a robbery that got out of hand.
One thing that hampered the investigation is that Bailey, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, was called up for a six-month deployment after the murder. He said before he was deployed, he had sent evidence collected at the crime scene to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to be tested, and he received the results while he was still deployed. He would not say what evidence was tested or what the results were.
Treharne said her life has been “hell” since her grandson was killed.
“Everyday — all night long, it’s been hell,” she said. “It’s like that every night at 3 a.m. That’s when we got the phone call. It’s set in your brain.”
King said the family has heard so many stories they don’t know what to believe, which makes dealing with Brandon’s death so much harder.
“That’s the worst part, but it’s not going to change anything. He’s gone,” King said. “But if we could find out who did it or the reason, it might be a little bit of a settlement in our minds.”
This story is part of a series of cold cases that WKBN is examining.
Anyone with information can call the Detective Bureau at 330-742-8911 or CrimeStoppers Youngstown at 330-746-CLUE.