Northeast Times

In memory of Ericka

— Nearly five years after her daugh­ter was found stabbed to death in the Far North­east, Janice Collins is hop­ing a be­ne­fit on Fri­day night will help yield some an­swers.

Janice Collins holds a pic­ture of her late daugh­ter, Er­icka Brair, who lived in Ox­ford Circle and was a Frank­ford High seni­or when her body was found on April 16, 2007 in a wooded area not far from Wood­haven Road in the Far North­east. Kev­in Cook / for the Times

Start­Frag­ment

When 18-year-old Er­icka Brair left home early on March 16, 2007, and didn’t re­turn, po­lice ini­tially sus­pec­ted she was an­oth­er run­away — a run­away of leg­al age, at that.

But Brair’s mom, Janice Collins, knew bet­ter.

It would take a month, but on April 16, 2007, Collins’ worst fears were con­firmed. Brair’s body was dis­covered in a wooded area near the 2000 block of Kubach Road in the By­berry West In­dus­tri­al Park. The young wo­man had been stabbed dozens of times and ap­par­ently dumped there.

Five years later, the slay­ing re­mains un­solved. Collins is re­new­ing her pub­lic ap­peal for in­form­a­tion that could help Phil­adelphia hom­icide in­vest­ig­at­ors un­lock the case and bring some res­ol­u­tion to a tragedy that will nev­er be fully re­solved for the vic­tim’s loved ones.

“There is no clos­ure. You’ll nev­er get over it, but you will get through it,” Collins told the North­east Times re­cently. “That was my only child. I’ll nev­er have grand­chil­dren. This is the end of our fam­ily. There’s no one left. It’s like we fall off the face of the Earth.”

On Fri­day, friends will have the chance to help Collins on her mis­sion. The Justice 4 Er­icka Brair fund-raiser will be held at St. Domin­ic’s Mari­an Hall, 8532 Frank­ford Ave., from 8 p.m. to mid­night.

Tick­ets cost $25 in ad­vance, $30 at the door, and in­clude a buf­fet, drinks and en­ter­tain­ment. There will be door prizes, a “Chinese” auc­tion and a 50/50. Call 215-531-3935 for in­form­a­tion.

• • •

Brair was a seni­or at Frank­ford High School and an Ox­ford Circle res­id­ent. She had turned 18 three weeks be­fore her dis­ap­pear­ance.

The night be­fore she went miss­ing, she had vis­ited the home of a friend for a small gath­er­ing, then re­turned to her own home on the 1400 block of Chel­ten­ham Ave. at around 11 p.m. Collins and her life part­ner also lived there.

It was a Thursday night, but Brair didn’t have school the next morn­ing. In­stead, she was sched­uled to ap­pear at a court hear­ing for a man ac­cused of rob­bing her and a male friend on a West Philly street sev­er­al weeks earli­er.

“She and her friends were go­ing down to testi­fy,” Collins said. “She kissed me good­night at 11:30. She came in­to my room like she did every night. It was like her put­ting mom to bed. We chit-chat­ted and watched TV. I went to bed and she went to bed and that was it.”

Collins went to Brair’s room early the next morn­ing to wake her up, but her daugh­ter was gone.

“I thought she went out­side to sneak a ci­gar­ette or went out to buy a pack. The only thing that wasn’t there were her purse, her keys and her phones,” Collins said.

Brair had one “chirp” phone to link up with friends and a second phone on her moth­er’s fam­ily plan, Collins ex­plained. She left her phone char­ger be­hind, so Collins figured that she would re­turn soon.

“Thirty minutes go by. Then forty-five minutes go by and I star­ted rid­ing around the neigh­bor­hood,” Collins said. “I went to her friend’s house where she was that night. I called a couple of her friends and nobody said they had seen her.”

When Collins last spoke to Brair, the teen hadn’t seemed overly con­cerned about testi­fy­ing in court against the al­leged rob­ber, al­though a gun was in­volved in the crime.

“I asked her if she was wor­ried about the guy and she said, ‘No, it was stu­pid. There were two of them, they took the money and ran off,’” Collins re­called.

Brair and her com­pan­ion flagged down a po­lice of­ficer to re­port the crime. Po­lice found the sus­pects and ar­res­ted them a short time later.

“She was the kind of kid if something was wrong, she would tell you,” Collins said.

• • •

After search­ing the neigh­bor­hood for Bri­ar for about two hours, Collins went to the po­lice sta­tion at Har­bison Av­en­ue and Levick Street to file a miss­ing per­son’s re­port. An of­ficer fol­lowed her home to in­spect the girls be­long­ings then ex­plained that the case didn’t im­me­di­ately qual­i­fy as a miss­ing per­son situ­ation.

Brair leg­ally was an adult. There was no evid­ence of foul play. But Collins knew it was out of Brair’s char­ac­ter to leave without a word.

The moth­er and daugh­ter fought some­times, but they al­ways worked it out.

“We nev­er went to bed angry. I don’t think there was ever one time we held a grudge,” Collins said. “She saw too many of her friends have trouble like that.”

When she wasn’t home, Brair would call her mom to re­port her where­abouts or her grand­moth­er to pass along a mes­sage to Collins. Brair had a close, pos­it­ive re­la­tion­ship with her grand­moth­er.

But she also had po­ten­tially un­healthy re­la­tion­ships, ac­cord­ing to her moth­er.

“She was hanging around with kids I didn’t par­tic­u­larly care for,” Collins said. “I said (to her), ‘Watch out. You may not think you can be in­flu­enced by oth­er kids, but you can be in­flu­enced.’”

Brair was strong-willed and a friend to many at Frank­ford High.

“They used to call her The Coun­selor,” Collins said.

Brair loved to watch the “CSI shows” and wanted to start a ca­reer in forensics. But she also wanted to be a bar­tender and wanted to pur­sue mas­sage ther­apy.

“She and I had gone up to ITT for an in­ter­view for mas­sage ther­apy (school),” Collins said. “That was prob­ably the first (choice) be­cause she was good at it.”

• • •

As the days elapsed, Collins con­tin­ued look­ing and Brair’s nat­ur­al fath­er traveled to Phil­adelphia from Texas to as­sist. Collins didn’t hear much pro­gress from the po­lice in­vest­ig­a­tion.

“I had a phone num­ber for people to leave mes­sages. If that phone rang, I dropped whatever I was do­ing. If some­body said she was some­where, I was go­ing (there),” she said.

“Some days, I’d get three, four, five calls; some days, one or two. I think half of them, the an­onym­ous ones, were people who knew (something) and were giv­ing false in­form­a­tion.”

A man who works at a nearby build­ing found Brair on April 16, 2007. In a later TV news in­ter­view, De­tect­ive Ken Rossiter of the hom­icide unit de­scribed her vi­ol­ent death, say­ing that she had 40 stab wounds, in­clud­ing what ap­peared to be “de­fens­ive wounds” of the hands or arms.

Phone re­cords provided an­oth­er im­port­ant set of clues.

“We have some people call­ing her re­peatedly after mid­night (on the night of her dis­ap­pear­ance) at her house,” Rossiter said on cam­era.

No mes­sages were left for most of the sus­pi­cious calls, Collins said, but one un­known caller made ref­er­ence to Brair’s im­min­ent court ap­pear­ance.

De­tect­ives also be­lieve that the body had been car­ried in­to the woods.

Collins noted that the con­di­tion of the corpse seemed to in­dic­ate a re­l­at­ively re­cent death, com­pared to the length of time that Brair had been miss­ing.

“Why was her body not de­teri­or­ated? It was (mostly) warm weath­er,” Collins said. “The day she went miss­ing, there was an ice storm and the day be­fore they found her body was an ice storm, but it melted quickly.”

Po­lice did not find Brair’s iden­ti­fic­a­tion or her two phones. An autopsy showed no il­li­cit drugs in Brair’s sys­tem, Collins said, only pre­scrip­tion paink­illers that she took for her back and an an­ti­histam­ine.

• • •

The last time Collins had a fund-raiser for her daugh­ter was in 2008. The fam­ily put to­geth­er a $10,000 re­ward for in­form­a­tion lead­ing to an ar­rest. Since then, the city has pos­ted a stand­ing $20,000 re­ward for sim­il­ar in­form­a­tion in all un­solved hom­icide cases. Brair’s case qual­i­fies for that, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice de­part­ment spokes­wo­man.

Collins hopes to raise more on Fri­day night.

“I’m hop­ing that someone who knows something comes for­ward,” she said. “I feel this year something’s go­ing to pop.”

She has many reas­ons to con­tin­ue her fight.

“My num­ber one thing is so they can’t do it to some­body else,” Collins said. “I be­long to a group, Par­ents With Murdered Chil­dren. We don’t want new mem­bers, but we’ll wel­come them with open arms and heavy hearts.

“I get pissed off at what they took from me and that she’ll nev­er get to live her life,” Collins ad­ded. “She nev­er got to go to her prom. She nev­er got to go to gradu­ation. She nev­er got to have chil­dren.” ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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