The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

October 5, 2013

Teen’s suicide leads to family’s conflict with police

JOPLIN, Mo. — Brooke Russell told her family she was going jogging the night of March 17.

When she’d been gone longer than usual, her parents set out in separate vehicles looking for her in their neighborhood on the near north side of Joplin.

The 16-year-old girl had run away from home a few days previously. Her father says she had been experiencing the emotional turmoil of love at a tender age. Kevin and Julissa Russell had their reasons to be concerned with their daughter not returning home on time.

Her mother was the first to catch sight of her at the steps to the tennis courts in Roanoke Park.

Seeing cigarettes, lighter, her daughter’s cellphone on the ground next to her. The gun, the shell casing, the blood.

Then running to the nearest house to summon help. Her husband and son arriving moments later, loading Brooke into the family’s SUV, heading to the hospital together in all the terror, heartbreak and awful anguish of the moment.

Dialing 911 as they went. Being directed by a dispatcher to an ambulance crew awaiting them at Third Street and Virginia Avenue, near a fire station and the Joplin Police Department.

Coming to a quick halt. Jumping out. The father, the son cradling the girl with the terrible head wound between them, carrying her toward the back of the ambulance and what the family must have sensed was their final hope of saving Brooke.

The intersection

Seven months later, what happened at Third Street and Virginia Avenue remains a bitter bone of contention between the Russell family and the Joplin Police Department.

Certain facts are not in dispute:

• The father and brother carried Brooke hurriedly from the SUV to the back of the ambulance and laid her down on a gurney.

• Moments later, the girl fell to the pavement.

• Seconds after that, the first police officer on the scene, Cpl. Austin Wolf, used pepper spray on the son and the father, and they were arrested for peace disturbance.

• The girl was transported to Freeman Hospital West, where she died about two hours later while her father and brother were still in custody at the police station.

• The father and son eventually were released and escorted to the hospital’s emergency room, where the father punched a hole in a wall of a consultation room upon learning from his wife that Brooke had died.

• Kevin Russell, 44, and Brant Russell, 22, remain charged in Joplin Municipal Court with misdemeanor offenses of assault, obstruction and peace disturbance related to what transpired at the intersection. The hospital chose not to press any complaint with respect to the hole punched in the wall.

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