LA MESA, Calif. — In April, a 22-year-old Navy sailor answered an unexpected knock at the door of his East County apartment to find a pair of masked gunmen. One of them shot him in the chest and the neck, killing him before disappearing into the night.
More than five months later, his family grieves his loss from across the country, feeling no closer to justice in the case.
The murder of Corneilius Donte Brown, an active-duty sailor who had been assigned to the San Diego-based USS Abraham Lincoln since 2018, remains an open investigation at the La Mesa Police Department, but the nature of the crime left detectives little to work with.
A description of the gunmen, who shot Brown at an apartment on Echo Court around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, April 24, never publicly advanced beyond “two male adults wearing ski masks and black-hooded sweatshirts.”
But the sailor’s mother, Adrienne Brown-Mills, is convinced there is someone who has the information needed to catch her son’s killer. Watching widespread coverage in the death of 22-year-old YouTuber Gabby Petito from her home in South Carolina, the anguished mom questioned whether the same attention for her son would lead to answers.
“I feel there’s some information out there. I feel that someone knows something,” she told FOX 5 this week by email. And “I feel the media and the police could help more.”
Adrienne says her “heart was shattered” when she first got the call that her son had been slain on the West Coast. “I didn’t want to live,” she told FOX 5. “I had no reason left to live.”
Brown, who often went by “Donte,” was active in his family’s church growing up and was a musician, playing the drums, his mom says.
“He never gave me any trouble. Very respectable and very well mannered. He never met a stranger and he loved children. He loved sports,” she wrote by email. “He was my only child and meant the world to me. He was my everything.”
Adrienne flew to San Diego after receiving the horrifying news and was in the area taking care of her son’s affairs during a flurry of news coverage and the start of the criminal investigation. But as time went on, the stories faded, she heard less from the Navy, and updates from La Mesa police were few and far between, according to Adrienne. She last spoke with a detective Sept. 2, she told FOX 5: “Still no leads and no information.”
A police spokesperson said the department is doing everything it can to track down Brown’s killers.
“Detectives from the La Mesa Police Department Investigations Division have been actively investigating and following up on leads regarding the murder of (Corneilius) Donte Brown since the crime occurred,” Lt. Gregory Runge wrote this week. “We are in communication with Donte’s family and want to assure the public that we are using every resource available to solve this crime.”
Beyond that, Runge said, police couldn’t release further details “due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.”
Back home in Columbia, S.C., Adrienne waits anxiously for any kind of update. She and Brown’s aunt, LaTasha Boyd, have been helping lead the charge for a renewed round of interest in the case. Boyd shared a testimonial from one of the sailor’s former mentors.
“Donte Brown was a light onto others each day that he lived on this earth while I knew him,” wrote Robert Wells, the head basketball coach at Brookland Cayce High School near Columbia, where Donte played for four years.
“The young man was motivated, very intelligent, and very well respected due to his attitude and character,” Wells wrote. “My prayer is that we find justice and the person who (caused) harm to this brilliant, intelligent, and Godly young man.”
To make that happen, Brown’s family is convinced it will take more public attention and for someone to come forward with information for investigators. Runge confirmed that anyone who provides tips leading to an arrest in the case could be eligible for a reward.
Tipsters were urged to contact La Mesa Police Department at 619-667-1400 or by email at email@example.com. They can also report anonymously to San Diego County Crime Stoppers at 888-580-TIPS or through the agency’s online tip form.