Four victims brutally killed execution-style in Akron fade from the headlines

On Tuesday, March 12, 24-year-old Ronald Roberts of Akron saw fit to update his Facebook profile picture. In it, he's wearing a red ball cap low on his forehead and sneering defiantly at the camera as he clutches a thick wad of cash.

Three days earlier, he'd posted a similar picture -- holding the same ungainly wad of bills up to his ear like a cell phone. Roberts had the juicy contoured lips and red-alert eyes of Jay-Z.

"Drug money will buy U what u want!$!" Read the caption.

Eighteen of Roberts' friends "Liked" that distillation, but the first commenter tendered some cautionary words: "Yea haterz an a early grave social flexin. B safe my [expletive]."

Turned out to be some prescient advice, advice that Roberts can no longer heed. On Thursday, April 18, Roberts was one of four young adults found dead in the basement of a town home in North Akron's Kimlyn Circle housing development.

Roberts and his longtime friend Kem Delaney, along with Roberts' girlfriend Kiana Welch and her friend Maria Nash, were murdered execution style, shot multiple times in the head. No suspects or official motives have been declared by the police, but rumors on social media have suggested Roberts was the central target.  

Regardless of motive and circumstance -- Drug deal gone awry? Opportunistic robbery taken too far? -- the shooting is the most deadly in Akron's recent memory.

The incident comes, however, during a spate of gruesome Summit County homicides. Earlier this month, a prominent attorney and his wife were beaten to death with in their home. A few days later, a 28-year-old man was shot and killed as he was taking the garbage out at McDonald's, where he worked.  

But in those cases, suspects have been arrested and are due in court. In the case of the Kimlyn Circle murders, information has been elusive.      

Captain Daniel Zampelli of the Akron Police Department said the case is a top priority for the officers in the Crimes Against Persons Unit, and that even though they can't release specific information about the crime scene and their leads, they definitely have leads and continue to receive tips.  

"This is obviously something that we're very focused on," Zampelli said in a statement over the phone.

One would hope so. According to the police department, Akron gets about 20 homicides per year, on average. The four murders last Thursday, in addition to the McDonald's murder, bring the 2013 total to 10. It's shaping up to be a statistically violent year for the rubber capital of the world, and the grisly events at Kimlyn Circle constituted one fifth of its typical annual haul.

The investigation is complicated; all four victims' connections and relations need to be vetted and sussed. It's speculated that Roberts was the only target, that the others may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the Akron police department intends to leave no stone unturned. That's why, even after a week with no emergent motive or probable suspect, they're not discouraged.  

"We're always hopeful that we solve every case," Zampelli said. "But a lot of it depends on the cooperation of the community and the tips that they bring forward."

Zampelli said that tips often lead to dead ends, but there's frequently valuable information gleaned along the way. He wouldn't comment on the nature or quantity of tips in the Kimlyn Circle murders, only that they were actively pursuing them.  

Phil Trexler, who's been covering the case for the Akron Beacon-Journal, said what's most troubling for him about the murders hasn't been (what some might call) the ineffectual police response, but the media climate surrounding the incident.

"On the day of the murders, all the Cleveland TV stations were there," Trexler wrote in an email. "Even the Plain Dealer, which rarely ventures south of Twinsburg for anything other than Jimmy Dimora, sent a reporter to the scene."  

But Trexler said that by day two, coverage had already faded.

"Most telling was Sunday night when a vigil that attracted nearly 200 people, and was well publicized a day in advance, drew only [the Akron Beacon-Journal] and a videographer from TV 5. I just hope the lack of coverage isn't because everyone views the slayings as 'just another drug-related killing in the hood.' Regardless of the motive, and we don't know what it is, four people under 25 were executed. Those kids mattered."

Their families certainly think so. Both Kem Delaney's father, Kem Delaney Sr., and Ronald Roberts' mother, April Roberts-Gilbert, have been advocating for anyone with information to come forward. At the Sunday vigil, Roberts-Gilbert pleaded with those gathered to stop the violence.

"Who is going to stand up and make this change?" she begged the crowd, through tears. "It's time. Let's get it together. Unity. That's what I want. My baby was 24 and I got to bury him. You're killing each other. That's what they want you to do... You gotta think. Think. It ain't worth it."

Roberts-Gilbert has maintained that her son was a good young man, the type of person who "would give you the shirt off his back." She has no idea who would have done this.  

On April 25, when Summit County Crimestoppers offered a reward of up to $2,000 for information about the murders, Roberts-Gilbert reiterated her plea for information.

"I just want somebody to come forward because I know somebody knows something," she told News Channel 5.

Kem Delaney Sr. also had a message for the perpetrators: "If you're the person behind the gun that did this senseless crime, you're going to get caught. It's just a matter of time," he said.

New information suggests that bullets from more than one gun were fired in the Kimlyn Circle basement. Multiple assailants are likely.

No one the police have questioned said they heard anything the afternoon of the murders. The man who called the murders in said a black man had been banging on his door "ranting and raving" about someone dead in the basement in No. 40.  On the recording, there's not much urgency to speak of -- he seems almost flippant.

A week after the murders, the caller stands behind his screen door at No. 38, two doors down from the melted wax and soggy stuffed animals which remain from Sunday's vigil.  The man says a short black guy came to his door and told him to call in the murders. The caller said he identified the man as a neighbor, but hadn't seen him before and hasn't seen him since.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.