Did Heroin Anxiety Lead to Couple’s Deaths?November 28, 2016 |
by Brttany Horn And Esteban Parra
DOVER, Del. — Brandon Jones and Chelsea Porter had been on the run from Delaware police for a week when they heard a knock on the motel room door in Elkton, Maryland, where they were holed up.
It was mid-morning Oct. 25, and Maryland State Police had arrived to serve Brandon with a Delaware warrant for his arrest on drugs, weapons and terroristic threatening charges. Brandon pulled back the curtain to see who had knocked, but before he snatched it closed officers saw him reach for a weapon.
The troopers backed off. But within seconds a phalanx of officers had long rifles trained on Brandon’s and Chelsea’s room, which was fronted by an outside walkway that spans the length of the building.
As officers called for the couple to peacefully surrender, 25-year-old Brandon scratched out a letter on a sheet of notebook paper to family members, lamenting his decisions in life and that he never got a chance to meet his potential. Then he stuffed a BB gun into his waistband and went out onto the walkway, where officers had a clear shot.
Officers screamed at him to drop the gun. Instead, Brandon pulled it from his waistband and pointed it at police. A hail of gunfire erupted from the weapons of at least 10 officers, police said. Brandon turned to run as he was pelted by hot lead. He dropped after taking a few steps.
Chelsea, Brandon’s high school sweetheart who had been with him for 10 years, watched his death from inside the room. Moments later, the 25-year-old emerged from the room with her BB gun already pointed at the officers. She, too, was met with a wall of bullets and fell just feet away from Brandon’s body.
Family and friends were dumbfounded. It appeared to be a classic case of “suicide by cop” at the New Eastern Inn. But those who knew Brandon and Chelsea say there is a much deeper story, one imbued with hard luck and heroin addiction.
In interviews with The News Journal, they explained how the couple fell in love at age 15 and how Chelsea stuck with Brandon through numerous drug relapses, stints in jail and anger management issues. Every time Brandon pushed her away for her own sake, she came back.
She couldn’t bear to be separated from him.
A NEW START
In late December of 2015, they moved 14 miles east from their hometown of Millington, Maryland, to the outskirts of Dover to get away from the bad influences that plagued their past.
But it did not take long for trouble to find them.
Brandon and Chelsea rented a single-wide trailer at Dinahs Corner, where a week before being gunned down Brandon accused a neighbor of stealing his motorcycle and aggressively challenged the man about the theft, firing a round from a handgun into the air at the man’s residence.
Chelsea called police to report the theft, but the man accosted by Brandon beat her to the phone. Delaware State Police came looking for Brandon. He and Chelsea had already fled, but investigators found guns and more than 2,000 bags of heroin in the trailer. In his phone call to his brother, Brandon told Brian whatever was left in the single-wide home was now his.
Brandon’s mother, Tammy, said her son had been taking methadone, a medication used to stave off heroin cravings, since 2014. Brian said Brandon wanted to wean himself off methadone before surrendering to police, and he believes Brandon and Chelsea got a room in Elkton because that’s where both received methadone for their heroin addictions.
“That’s why he was in Elkton,” Tammy said. “He was going to the clinic every day.”
Cathy McKay, president and chief executive officer of Connections Community Support Programs Inc., which treats people addicted to drugs in Delaware, did not personally know Brandon and Chelsea. However, she said, “the lens of anxiety really distorts the way people see things. How they might have seen police closing in around them and other things (that morning) might have exacerbated the situation. They may have reacted or responded irrationally to what was going on around them.”
Brian said his brother “had nothing to live for.” But he was convinced that Brandon didn’t want to die, rather, he just didn’t know what to do next.
Tammy is convinced that Brandon didn’t believe police would kill him.
“Neither one of them planned on dying,” she said as tears flowed from behind her glasses. “The only way (Brandon) could get help was doing something stupid and then they threw him aside. … I’ve cried for help. I’ve asked for help, so he could become someone really good in life. All they ever did was push him aside.”
NO OPTIONS FOR POLICE
Maria Haberfeld, a law professor at John Jay College, said the situation in Elkton didn’t leave officers with many options. They do not have time to discern whether someone is carrying a BB gun, a water pistol or a handgun, she said.
“There’s nothing that can assure the police officer that this is a real gun or a BB gun,” she said. “I don’t know how many disasters we have to witness until people realize that pointing a fake gun at a police officer is a very bad idea.”
The only real clue to Brandon’s state of mind in the moments before he died was the hastily written note.
Brandon’s shaky handwriting was pressed firmly into the notebook paper, words sounded out phonetically when he didn’t know the correct spelling. Drug use and jail time kept Brandon from completing high school:
“All I ever wanted was for people to give me a chance so I could make-have a family wit Chelsea,” the note read. “But no one would give me not even a little chance so I had to do wat I had to do to servie-live.”
Nov. 13 would have marked Brian and Chelsea’s 10-year anniversary together.
The two met at Queen Anne’s County High School, Tammy said, and they quickly became inseparable – even when Brandon landed in a detention center in Cumberland, Maryland, more than three hours from home. What started with marijuana use at 14 quickly moved to Percocet and harder alternatives like cocaine and heroin for Brandon, which landed him in trouble with local police.
Chelsea, whose family declined to comment for this story, tried to break him out, Tammy recalled. Had it not been for a black bear blocking his path down a wooded trail to the roadway leading away from the detention center, Brandon probably would have made it, she said with a smile.
To Tammy, they were high school sweethearts in every sense of the word.
“They were a couple that I truly believe is the true meaning of love,” Tammy said. “Because she stuck with him through everything.”
The two always had a plan, Tammy said – for their future, for the next getaway, for the next obstacle life would present to them. Once, Chelsea met Brandon at a Sellersville, Maryland, gas station where his mom was refueling on the way back to the detention center. Brandon had a weekend pass but didn’t want to return.
When Tammy came back to the car, Brandon was gone. Chelsea had picked him up, Tammy said, nodding slyly. Even though it caused problems, she smiled remembering the well-intentioned plan.
Weeks later, Chelsea would create a scheme with police to get pulled over for a broken tail light. That way, Tammy said, Brandon would get taken back into police custody and get the help he needed for his addiction.
LIFETIME OF MEDICATION
In school, doctors and administrators had always pushed medication at the admittedly hyperactive boy, his mother said.
Medicine became the mantra, and Ritalin and Adderall became part of the young boy’s vocabulary. But the pills caused bad migraines for Brandon, Tammy said, sometimes prompting her son to hit himself in the head.
After years of letdowns by family members, some who died, some who moved away and others who were indifferent toward the young man, Chelsea was the one constant in his life, Tammy said.
“He didn’t go anywhere without her. She didn’t go anywhere without him,” Brandon’s mother said. “They had their ups and downs . he would break up with her to keep her out of it, but she never left him.”
“She would not live without him,” Tammy said. “He was her life.”
They were normal
At the end of last year, looking to start anew, the couple moved to the Delaware community of Dinahs Corner near Dover, where they rented a single-wide trailer from Earl Hudson.
Hudson said he never had any problems with the couple.
“They were kind of quiet people, but they were good people,” said Hudson, who’s lived in the area for 47 years.
The blue-collar community is made up mostly of manufactured homes on lots cut into wooded areas on either side of dirt roads – the main drag being Stardust Drive. The pair lived in a beige trailer situated on ¾ of an acre.
Neighbors said they were pleasant but kept to themselves. The few times she wasn’t working, Chelsea could be seen working in a garden. Brandon often rode a dirt bike.
“They were normal people from what I knew,” said 37-year-old Karen Miller, who lived near the couple.
Jones would often lend his motorbikes to neighbors, including a small motorcycle that young children enjoyed riding.
Neighbors said the pair often had visitors, but none that caused trouble.
In mid-October, they learned one of Brandon’s motorcycles was stolen from in front of his home. Hudson remembers telling Brandon that the police were not going to do anything about it, based on the amount of items that had been stolen from him and never recovered.
“I guess he went off the deep end,” Hudson said.
According to family and what neighbors had heard, an armed Brandon confronted the people he believed had stolen the motorcycle on Oct. 18.
Police reported that Jones fired one round from a handgun after he threatened to shoot a 44-year-old man. He then returned home and had Chelsea report the motorcycle stolen.
The couple returned to Millington the following day asking to borrow a car.
Two days later, detectives, armed with a search warrant, responded to the trailer, breaking the front door window and tossing in a smoke bomb to flesh them out, a neighbor said. Inside, police found 2,094 bags of heroin, 1,020 grams of marijuana, a .38-caliber revolver, a 6.35-caliber pistol, a .22-caliber rifle and a .357-caliber revolver that were reported stolen in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, in July.
There was no sign of the couple.
Brandon was communicating with his brother, first via Facebook, then over a cellphone.
“He was in tears,” Brian said. “His exact words, I’m fairly certain, you can’t put in the paper.”
The elder brother explained his version of the story, then asked Brian to go to his Dover house and collect his pets and belongings.
“Brandon was under the impression that he was going away for the rest of his life,” Brian said.
NEWS OF DEATHS SPREAD
Brian remembers driving down U.S. 301 in Maryland the morning Brandon and Chelsea died. When he heard that U.S. 40 was closed because of police activity, he thought nothing of it and wouldn’t until hours later when news began to spread on social media.
“I thought my brother and Chelsea were already in Canada or halfway to Mexico,” he said, coughing out a regretful laugh as he lit another cigarette.
Withdrawal often comes with sickness, nausea, headaches and other symptoms, as well as anxiety and depression brought on from the sudden change, McKay, of Connections, said.
“Part of why people turn to drugs is because we don’t live in a society where people are very forgiving of mistakes,” McKay said. “It can be really hard to get a job if you have a record. People are sometimes closed out of the mainstream ways of making a living.”
A federal report released November 24, “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health” calls for a shift in the way America addresses substance addictions, finding that one in seven Americans will face such disorders. Only 10 percent of those addicted receive treatment, the study said.
An American dies every 19 minutes from opioid or heroin overdose, and the report spells out the cost of substance abuse. The economic impact of drug and alcohol misuse and addiction amounts to $442 billion each year – topping diabetes at $245 billion, said Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general.
Heroin has long plagued Delaware, with 125 dying from heroin overdoses last year alone. In Dover, police saw an 871 percent increase in heroin seizures from 2014 to 2015. The drug has spread throughout the city’s population unlike any other Dover Chief Paul Bernat has ever seen.
“If we can save one life we’ve done more than we’ve done so far,” he said earlier this year when the department launched the Angel Program, which connects those with addiction with rehabilitation services offered by Connections.
Despite efforts by law enforcement, the drug continues to play a key role in violence and crime in Delaware, say police and prosecutors.
It consumed Brandon, and the sadness spilled across his family.
Hours after the shooting, Brian got the first phone call. His half-sister down in Florida saw a video online that showed both of them being shot to death. Brian then forced himself to watch his brother die.
Tammy didn’t see the video or immediately hear about the shooting, but when the two police cars pulled into their driveway, she said she instinctively knew her boy was gone. She always worried about her son, but never thought he would die at the hands of police.
“I knew here,” she said, pointing to her chest. “I said that morning, I know something bad is going to happen, but I didn’t think it was gonna be him dying.”
Her eyes welled with tears, flicking her attention to the square mahogany box where Brandon’s ashes now sit in their living room. A wooden table draped in a blanket serves as a makeshift memorial to the son Tammy lost too soon. Framed photos hint at the life Brandon and Chelsea hoped to lead, images at their first Christmas in Dover together now surrounding his ashes.
“A part of me still to this day thinks he’s going to walk through that door,” she said.