April 29, 2020 | By Robert Kemple
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
“Kevin was just always so happy.”
That’s how Rosa Brandonisio remembers her son. “He could always make anyone laugh,” she recalled.
Kevin Anthony Sanders was murdered on November 22, 2010. He was just 15.
Kevin was a happy kid. He was full of joy at a young age and his joy grew as he got older. As the older brother, he was naturally protective of his younger sister.
Rosa still remembers watching Kevin playing on the floor with his toy cars and puzzles. It’s one of her fondest memories. He also loved Superman and would make time to watch Blue’s Clues as a child.
Kevin played many sports growing up, including baseball, football, and basketball. He fell in love with basketball. He had talent. All who watched him play would agree.
“I remember one time a gentleman came up to me and told me Kevin was going to be the next Michael Jordan,” Rosa said. “That was quite the compliment.”
Kevin wanted to use his athletic abilities to help his mother out – a single mother of two living in a suburb of Chicago. “He would always tell me, ‘One day I’m going to buy you a house, Mom. I’m going to take care of you,’” Rosa recalled.
Kevin and his sister Taylor had a wonderful sibling relationship. Rosa still gets a kick out of thinking about how they played together. Kevin would often tease his sister, throwing her dolls out the third story window of their apartment.
Rosa’s parents helped raise Kevin and Taylor. During this time, Kevin, the first grandchild in the family, grew very close to his grandfather. They shared a strong bond. “The two of them were very close,” Rosa said. “They always went and got breakfast together almost every day.”
Due to high rent at their previous apartment, Rosa and her two children moved in with her parents. It was there, a year and a half later, on a rainy Monday, that Rosa received the worst news imaginable.
Rosa was at work when she received a call from Taylor, who was 8 at the time. She informed her mother that a number of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars were outside of their home.
From there, Rosa attempted to call and text Kevin. He never responded.
As she arrived at the house, Rosa was greeted by detectives. They informed her that her 15-year-old son had been shot and murdered in the alleyway just feet from the home.
A security camera nearby captured a red van driving away from the area the crime occurred, but, according to a 2011 article on the incident, the license plate wasn’t visible.
The loss of her brother traumatized young Taylor. She wouldn’t let her mother leave the house without her.
When Rosa broke the news about Kevin to her father, she had to be mindful and careful in how she did so. She worried that the shocking news would cause him to suffer a heart attack or some other medical emergency. That was tough, she recalled. He still talks about Kevin from time to time but can’t do so without tearing up.
Almost 10 years later, Kevin’s murder has yet to be solved.
Reports from the time of the murder mention the possibility of gang relations. Kevin was also reportedly involved in the Juvenile Improvement Program, a program aimed at assisting “troubled teens.” He was reportedly dismissed from the program just days before his murder.
Rosa has stated many times before that she doesn’t believe her son was involved with gangs. She recalls that Kevin was once caught with an older boy, around 19 years old, eating at a diner after curfew. As the police were involved, Rosa believes that’s why Kevin was enrolled in the preventative program.
There were 435 murders in Cook County, Illinois, that year, according to the Chicago Tribune. One happened to be a young man who brought laughter and positivity to everyone around him, especially to his family.
Rosa created a Facebook page where she shares memories of her son. “I think of him and miss him every day, but it is especially hard around the holidays,” Rosa said.
“Those days are just extra tough.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Kevin Sanders, please call the Cicero Police Department at (708) 652-2130.
Research and Impact
Far too often are a child’s cause of death listed as “undetermined.” The lack of official classification can often hinder the investigator’s ability to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, who is responsible for the murder.
An “undetermined” death classification equates to longer investigations, which delays judicial processes and the identification of a suspect. One reason for this is due to the delay in autopsy results, as medical examiners must often work through a backlog of cases. Adult autopsies take a while, but it was discovered that the Massachusetts medical examiner was taking an average of 242 days to determine a cause in children’s death cases.
Ryan Backmann, founder and executive director for Project: Cold Case, spoke of the systemic failures to protect the youngest, most vulnerable lives. Despite the ongoing investigation, “these people are going to have other children,” Backmann said. Those children are now at risk because their dangerous caregivers were not held responsible.
Per the studies of criminologist James Fox of Northeastern University, Massachusetts investigators have solved 90% of homicides involving children under the age of 11 between the years 2000 and 2013. The clearance rate for older children and adults is considerably lower. However, there were no regional or national recordings for how many of these cleared lead to homicide charges or judicial process.
When a child is murdered, their body can often tell a story. However, it’s the job of the medical examiner to determine if any injuries were accidental, or cause by homicidal or suicidal actions. Furthermore, there is often a need for more investigation, including the assistance of a forensic specialist and a review of preexisting health and wellness.
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