Suspects eyed in murder of Destrehan church volunteer

April 11, 2014 at 11:23 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Ruthel Ellis holds up a picture of her son, Ramal. Ramal was shot to death on Nov. 17 near Fifth African Baptist Church in St. Rose.
Ruthel Ellis holds up a picture of her son, Ramal. Ramal was shot to death on Nov. 17 near Fifth African Baptist Church in St. Rose.
Nearly five months after 23-year-old Ramal Ellis was found shot to death behind the church where he volunteered his time, officials with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office say suspects have been identified in connection with the murder, though any arrests will have to wait until the evidence is fully processed.

Det. Jeremy Pitchford said authorities have sent off a great deal of evidence to be processed at the state lab and are working to build a case against people that may have been involved in Ellis’ slaying. However, they are looking for additional information in order to strengthen the case.

Ellis’ body was found on Third Street in St. Rose near the Fifth African Baptist Church less than a quarter of a mile away from his home on Fourth Street.

The streets nearby Fifth African Baptist Church and Ellis’ home are dotted with yard signs bearing his picture, the date of his murder and requesting that those with information about the crime call the Sheriff’s Office or Crimestoppers.

“The reason we (have the signs) is we want people to continue to remember that this happened and maybe someone will see this sign and if they know something they will say, ‘You know what? I am going to call,” Rodney Madere, chief of investigations with the Sheriff’s Office, said. “Maybe somebody with a conscience will say, ‘I am tired of hearing about Ramal.””

One of those signs is stuck securely in the yard of the Ellis family home where Ellis’ parents, Lamar and Ruthel Ellis, still live.

The family is originally from the Mid City area of New Orleans, but were forced out of the city after Hurricane Katrina devastated their old neighborhood. After the move, Ellis spent his last two years of high school at Destrehan where he excelled in football, basketball and as a member of the track team.

Ruthel said a large reason behind the family’s move to St. Charles Parish was because of the upheaval in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that resulted in a high crime rate.

“We moved out here because we thought is was safer, and it is for the most part. The crime rate is lower here than in New Orleans. That was one of the reasons I came to that decision,” she said.

The family lived in St. Rose for years without incident. Ellis graduated from Destrehan High School in 2009 and went to Southern University in Baton Rouge before moving back home with his parents to attend Delgado Community College.

Throughout his schooling, Ellis maintained steady jobs, something his mother said she encouraged him to do.

“Ramal always had something to do. He started at Winn-Dixie and then he went to Domino’s Pizza, which he loved but I didn’t because I was afraid that someone would rob him. After that he went on to Home Depot,” she said. “During all of that he stayed in school and his goal was to finish college and to graduate because that was important to him and us.”

Before his death, Ellis was on pace to graduate with his associate’s degree this May. Instead, his parents are left behind to wonder about what happened the night of his death.

By all accounts, Ellis was a popular and well-liked member of the community, which is why so many people find his tragic death all the more puzzling.

“He was a popular kid and he played football at Destrehan High School. A lot of people are interested in it and a lot of people are anxious for us to get some resolution and see it solved,” Madere said. “According to his parents and friends and everybody, he was a good kid.”

Ruthel said she remembers in detail the day her son was murdered. The family attended church together that morning and then Ellis went to Sunday school afterward. In the afternoon, Ruthel went for a walk on the levee and she returned home to find that Ellis had gone to visit friends.

As her only child, Ruthel said she kept very close watch over Ellis and often kept in contact with him by phone when he was away from their home. Although his parents had spoken to him a few times during the afternoon and early in the evening, they began to get worried as the night wore on and they could not reach Ellis despite repeated calls.

“I was in the room around 8 something at night and we still hadn’t been able to reach him on the phone. That was so unusual because if he didn’t call back the first few times he’d eventually call back,” Ruthel said. “I was in the room and I heard something that sounded like firecrackers and what I heard was my son being murdered. I thought it was firecrackers though so I said to myself, ‘Why is somebody popping firecrackers in November?’ Come to find out it was actually gunfire.”

It wasn’t until after 9 p.m. that Ellis’ parents noticed an ambulance near the church. With many elderly people living in the community, it is not uncommon for ambulances to come pick up those who become ill, but after Ruthel and Lamar noticed police searching the area with flashlights, Lamar went to check out what was going on.

Ruthel said that was when they found out someone had been found shot to death in the street behind the church. When Lamar called to tell Ruthel that it was Ellis, she did not believe him.

“He called and said, ‘Ruthel, I think that is Ramal down there.’ I said ‘that is not my son. Why would Ramal be lying on the ground down there dead?’” she said.  

When police overheard Lamar’s phone conversation, they began to question him and told him that the man who had been shot to death was indeed his son.

Now the Ellis family and the Sheriff’s Office are asking people to come forward who may have seen something the night of Ellis’ murder.

The Sheriff’s Office has narrowed the time of Ellis’ murder to between 8:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. on Nov. 17.

“He spoke to an acquaintance at 8:30 by phone and that is the last person who can say he was alive. The call (about the murder) came in at 9:15, so that is a 45-minute gap,” Madere said.

Madere said it appears Ellis was walking home from visiting a friend in Destrehan when he was gunned down.

“He was almost home,” Ruthel said. “He just never made it.” Ruthel said her son’s death is baffling.

“He was just too young, so young and, like so many other (murders), it is just senseless to me. I just don’t understand it,” she said. “We are pleading with anybody who saw anything to come forward.”

Ruthel said her family just wants the ordeal to be over with along with the capture of those responsible for her son’s death.

“We never knew his life would be cut off at 23. We hope that no one else has to go through this the way we have gone through it, and still are going through it, because it is very, very fresh even though it happened some months ago,” she said. “We need help from anyone who is willing to give it and we hope that person finds it in their heart to help us.”

Anyone with information regarding the murder is asked to contact Pitchford at (985) 783-1135 or (985) 783-6807.

Those with information may also contact Crimestoppers at 1 (877) 903-STOP. You do not have to give your name or testify and could receive up to $2,500 for information leading to a successful conviction.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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