23-year-old Owen Goodenow would have to go into work around 4:30 p.m. at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Dimondale, Mich., where he worked with his brother as a telemarketer. He never missed a day of work.
It would be the last test Darren Brown Jr. would ever take and the first day of work Owen Goodenow would ever miss, because around 2:30 p.m. on March 25, they both were murdered in their home for $1,250 and a pound of marijuana.
For the friends and family of Darren and Owen, it’s been two years of waiting. Waiting while the investigation by the Lansing Police Department was turned over to the Michigan State Police. Waiting for the trial and conviction of Lansing resident Benjamin French for the murders. Waiting for David Marion Jr. to plead guilty.
Marion was sentenced to 40-60 years in prison for the March 2010 murders of Darren Brown Jr. and his roommate Owen Goodenow on Wednesday morning in Lansing’s 30th Circuit Court. French currently is serving life in prison without parole after being sentenced in January.
Despite justice being served, Darren Brown Jr. and Owen Goodenow are forever taken.
Tyler Cole, a roommate of Darren and Owen’s, left the house around 11 a.m. to start his work shift at the MSU Press. He had spent time with his roommates earlier in the morning.
Cole stayed a little later at work to finish up some extra things. It was a good day — so far.
He returned home from work around 4:30 p.m. to find Darren Brown Jr. lying on the floor. He thought he was napping. No response. He went to wake him. No response. He touched Brown’s cold leg, he moved his arm and saw a pool of blood.
Officials later determined Darren died from a bullet wound to the back of his head. After finding the lifeless body, Cole went to Owen’s room to find Owen dead too.
Who could do this?
“Anybody that knew Darren or Owen could never do that to them,” Cole said.
And he reached for his cell phone. He was in shock, but reality quickly set in.
911. Police. Ambulance. Firefighters. Man down.
At 5:01 p.m., an official pronouncement of death was made for Darren Brown Jr. and Owen Goodenow.
Darren Brown Jr.
Darren Brown Sr. waited for his son, Darren Brown Jr. to call. He waited for him to finish up with class. He waited for him so they could grab dinner together. And as he waited, his mother received a call around 4:30 p.m. from her cousin about a Facebook post saying “RIP Darren.” From then on, Darren Brown Sr. was done waiting.
Rocketing down the 13 steps in his mother’s house, he raced outside the door, and his mother, Earlean Brown, followed close behind, arriving at the Glasgow residence a little after him. His worst fears were confirmed. “RIP Darren” was true, and it was time to tell his mother her beloved grandson was gone.
“Oh no, Boo’s not dead,” she said to him. Boo was Darren Brown Jr.’s nickname; Darren, the center of her world.
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She and Darren Sr., stood outside the small ranch-style home, crying and trying to gather as much information as they could. So many cop cars and so much yellow tape and people around, and the tears kept flowing, and the questions and rage built up in Darren Brown Sr., and it all just seemed so unreal, unending.
Who? What? And let me grab them. He wasn’t concerned about the why, at least not yet.
“It was like I was strictly moving on adrenaline,” Darren Brown Sr. said. “I was furious. I went to everybody who knew anything.”
Inching forward, Earlean Brown moved toward the house, closer to where she thought the answers were, her body pressed against the yellow tape.
Do not cross. But she needed to — Boo wasn’t dead until she saw it for herself. As she approached, an officer stopped her. The police station, that’s where she needed to go now if she wanted answers.
“I was so upset, and a lot of anger built up in me real fast,” Earlean Brown said.
She spent the rest of the night at the police station, staying past midnight. Words of comfort came from the officers, but she didn’t hear them. Nothing could comfort her now.
One of her aunties — that’s who she needed to call now. She clutched the phone and the words “somebody has killed my grandson” hardly made it out. The phone smashed against the ground and she broke down, her unpinned wig falling off in a fit of hysteria.
There she was, in the police station, trying to put on her wig and pull herself together.
“I just lost it,” she said. “That was one of the worst days and a complete nightmare of my life.”
As Lansing resident Suzanne Goodenow, Owen’s mother, worked at her computer, her sister called her and told her Owen had not shown up for work. It was around 5 p.m., and ever since getting perfect attendance in the fifth grade, Owen had a thing about always showing up.
Something was wrong.
Ring. Ring. No answer, so she called his best friend, Lansing resident Matt Meyers, and asked him to go to the house on Glasgow to find out what was going on. As he drove down Glasgow toward the house, he saw flashing lights and a slew of police cars.
Something bad happened.
She asked him if they had been robbed. He thought it was worse than that, and an online article he would read later in the evening confirmed his worst fears: his best friend had been murdered.
“It was probably the hardest conversation I’ve ever had in my life,” Meyers said. “(Owen’s mother) was very frantic and didn’t want to believe it.”
She called him a liar. She warned him that this better not be a joke.
“I just couldn’t believe — Why is this happening to our family?” Suzanne said. “We did nothing to deserve this.”
Each moment blurred into the next for Suzanne. It became hard for her to breathe. She called the police. Family gathered at her house. She wanted more information. Details. None were forthcoming.
How did they do it? Why? The questions raced. She started to lose track. No one called her other son Ryan to let him know what was going on.
“He came home to find all this chaos because I just lost track of everything,” Suzanne said. “It was just a mind-numbing experience.”
It was now 7 p.m., and Lansing resident Ryan Goodenow, Owen’s brother, arrived home from work. It had been just like any other day — going to school, going to work — but it was also Ryan’s birthday.
Walking into his mother’s house through the garage door, he heard nothing.
“No one said a word,” Ryan said. “No one had to. You could feel the (grief). It just hit me like an iron curtain.”
Cole misses the little things — the laughter, the fun, the way things were — just riding around in the car listening to a little De La Soul hip-hop with Darren.
“(I miss) being able to ask him how his day was,” Cole said. “Being able to know, ‘yeah, I’m going to see you later.’”
Moving forward, Cole hopes people remember Owen’s sense of humor and Darren’s work ethic, because it’s who they were that helps him keep going. It helped him through the investigation and through testifying in court.
“It was the last way that I could do something for Darren and Owen,” Cole said.
Before Owen died, he was going to do something for his little brother Ryan. Ryan was over at the house just to visit and while they sat together, Owen told him he wanted to get a tattoo:
They never really told each other how they felt, but on that day, Ryan realized just how much his big brother loved him.
“That was meaningful because I know how important … ” Ryan said, closing his eyes as the tears welled up. “I loved my brother because I looked up to him.”
Tattooed on Suzanne’s left arm is the same tattoo Owen had, a Care Bear with a skull in the middle. Underneath it reads, “Forever in our hearts,” and that’s where her son Owen will always stay.
“I’m not facing it very well because I’ve been putting (grieving) off,” Suzanne said. “But now (Ryan) tells me that it’s time, and he’s right.”
As the months after Owen’s death passed, all the shooting pains and the sleepless nights became less frequent. There were nights she thought she wouldn’t wake up the next morning the pain was so bad. Time and therapy is beginning to heal the wounds.
“There’s a lot to live for,” she said. “(I’m) just looking forward to watching my other two kids grow up and become adults and see where that leads them.”
As for the Brown family, closure is hard to come by. Wrapped in a plastic covering lies a baby picture of Darren Brown Jr. wearing a red sweater and a smile in front of a Christmas tree backdrop. Tucked in the corner of the plastic covering is a picture of Jesus.
This is how Earlean Brown remembers her Boo. Everyday she talks to his picture.
We all love you. We all miss you.
He was going to be something, but all her dreams for him, like walking across the stage with a college degree, were taken away. And she can’t let that go.
“I don’t want to hate, but it’s still there,” Earlean Brown said. “I don’t forgive because it should have never happened.”
She wishes he could come back, but she takes comfort in knowing he’s gone to heaven, where the pain of death isn’t felt.
“I will see you one day,” she said. “He’s in a better place than we are because we still have to deal with what’s going on.”
For Darren Brown Sr., he’ll always deal with what’s going on. He feels like a shell of himself, like he’s 65 percent full, and he worries he’ll never be able to feel 100 percent again.
“You could be in a crowded room and you’ll still feel alone,” he said. “You get up and do things, and you do them until you can’t do them anymore.”
For Darren Brown Sr. there is no closure. There might never be.
“You close books,” he said. “You close companies. You don’t close lives. It’s not over.”
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