Nearly a year later, family still searching for answers in 23-year-old’s death

Nearly a year later, family still searching for answers in 23-year-old’s death
Deanthony Amari Cooper-Cain was shot and killed near Pratt City. (Source: Cain/Ruffins family)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - It’s been nearly a year of agony for the family of Deanthony Amari Cooper-Cain.

In February 2019, police say the 23-year-old was one of two people shot while driving along Avenue W near Pratt City. The victims sped away and stopped about two miles away on Pike Road before help arrived.

Investigators say Deanthony later died at UAB. His dad was also in the car at the time and was treated for a gunshot wound.

"To have something that random happen and everything, there seems to be no answers whatsoever,” Derrick Ruffins, Deanthony’s dad said.

The case hasn't been solved. Deanthony's parents, who now live in Mississippi, claim they haven't heard much from Birmingham Police since it happened.

“It gets harder every day. Some say time heals all wounds but with no justice, how can time ever heal? Its like okay, if all the answers aren’t laid out right there in front of them then it’s like they just give up,” Ruffins said.

"No, we haven’t given up. We never give up on them. The frustration they feel, we feel,” Deputy Chief Scott Praytor said.

Deputy Chief Scott Praytor heads up investigations at BPD. Praytor says there were no apparent witnesses to the shooting.

"We see their tears and we see them when they’re upset, we see them when they’re mad. There’s a whole range of emotions they go through. We try to understand those. They’re searching for some kind of answer and that’s really our job. We’re trying to give them that answer,” Praytor said.

Deanthony’s mom says her husband, not police, was the first to tell her Deanthony died. She says after the shooting she was taken to BPD headquarters for questioning.

“And I ended up having to call her from the hospital because I’m in the trauma unit. They’re trying to patch me up and everything but only thing I wanted to know is, how is my son?” Ruffins said.

We asked Praytor about the notification process.

"Sometimes it's us. Sometimes it's the coroner’s office,” Praytor said.

And that’s how it is for most of area law enforcement. If BPD has to notify families, usually the supervisor in the homicide unit does it. The notifications are often in person and handled with extreme care because of the range of emotions families are going through. In some cases, after the notification is made, questions are asked.

"We try to explain to them as much as we can about what we know. In a lot of these cases, we have to get information from the family at that same time. We need to know who were they with last, who did they talk to, etc.” Praytor said.

Over the past few months, some victim's families tell us they found out about their loved one cases by watching the news or on Facebook before hearing it from police.

"I called for months and months with no return phone call, with no kind of response,” Ruffins said.

Deputy Chief Praytor says BPD did reach out to the Ruffins over the holidays.

"If you call a detective and for whatever reason you can’t get them or haven’t called you back, you can always call a supervisor, and the supervisor will return your call,” Praytor said.

Praytor understands the frustrations and said leaving families in the dark about their love one’s cases is not acceptable. Depending on the case, police may not release many details because it may impact their investigation.

"If I were the families, I wouldn't want to hear it either. I don't want to hear the reasons why something can't be done. I want to know what you're doing and we should provide that." Praytor said.

Deanthony's family says they aren't giving up on finding their son's killer. BPD says even though one detective is assigned to the case, multiple detectives end up working cases. Praytor says the homicide unit is dedicated to solving cases.

"These guys take these cases very personally. No open homicide is just ever closed and shelved. We're always talking to people in jail. We're talking to people in the community. We're doing everything we can to generate information,” Praytor said.

"We just want justice for our son. His mom needs to know what happened to her son. I need to know what happened to my son,” Ruffins said.

Police tell us in some cases, the “no snitch” culture makes it difficult for them to do their jobs when no one talks. That can further frustrate families who are looking for answers. Victim response groups like Faith in Action can help. They act as a liaison between the community and BPD. We’re told the community gives them information and in turn Faith in Action gives it to police to help with investigations.

Copyright 2020 WBRC. All rights reserved.