Every night, Sheila Wallace would regularly walk her dog in McGowan Park not far from her home. When she set out on that cold January night 4 years ago this fifty-eight-year-old Cleveland resident had no idea it would be her last. She was shot down in cold blood for no apparent reason just steps from her front door.
The ruthless crime sent immediate shockwaves through the close-knit community.
As the months ticked on by the case went cold. Police could not point to a motive, there were few leads to pursue, and the shooter remained on the loose. All of these facts made Sheila Wallace’s tragic death that much more agonizing for her family not knowing why, or who may have done this. A year and a half later, Dan DeRoos, a Cleveland 19 News reporter captured the anguish of Sheila’s daughter and the emotional pleas by community members to bring the killer to justice (watch the below video).
Yet, in April of 2019, only a few months after the McGowan Park homicide a police officer witnessed a shooting in the Stockyards neighborhood of Cleveland. The officer gave chase of the suspect who was in a stolen pickup truck. The vehicle ultimately crashed near the Metroparks Zoo, and the fleeing felon, later identified as DaJuan Evens, tossed a Glock 9mm from his vehicle. Luckily, a good Samaritan would later turn the crime gun into the police to be processed through the Cuyahooga County Regional Forensics Science Laboratory. A test fire passed through the recovered Glock and its corresponding image would be searched through the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) for a possible match.
NIBIN did not disappoint. From this NIBIN query the lab determined that the same gun used in this apparently isolated shooting in the Stockyards neighborhood was the same one used to kill Sheila in McGowan Park less than 5 miles away. Armed with this new information, it was not long before investigators could leverage additional crime gun intelligence (CGI) practices, in this case DNA, to match the gun to DaJuan Evens.
In 2019, access to NIBIN in Ohio was far more limited than it is today and its prominence as a crime-fighting tool was not as well known, so it would not be uncommon for the CGI processes to be slowed down. Today, thanks to the efforts of Governor Mike DeWine's Ballistic Testing initiative supported by Federal and state grant monies needed to fund crime gun intelligence centers and access to NIBIN, Ohio has increased its capabilities to combat violent crime.
In May of 2023, the 22-year-old DaJuan Evens was indicted for the 2019 murder of Sheila Wallace. He killed her just because their paths happened to cross.
Solving a crime is sometimes described as solving a puzzle. Yet, unlike those puzzles we dump out of a box and the pieces are readily apparent, crimes often require investigators to first search for and then recognize the puzzle pieces themselves before trying to fit them together. “Dissectologists” – the term used to describe jigsaw puzzle solvers – often debate as to which piece is more important whether that being corner pieces or center pieces. Having worked on plenty of puzzles in my lifetime it has become obvious that the best puzzle piece surprisingly is actually the cover of the box in which the puzzle comes. The cover depicts the finished puzzle – the big picture.
NIBIN, through the Integrated Ballistic Identification System technologies, provides investigators with the big picture. Today, there are over 310 NIBIN sites nationwide, each acquiring ballistic images associated with recovered crime guns and crime scenes from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. This library of images offers gumshoes across the nation more opportunities to quickly sort through all of the potential puzzle pieces related to shootings and focus on those pieces that relate to the cases in question. NIBIN associates shooting events to other shooting events, or the links between a recovered gun to a shooting event as was the case with the McGowan Park homicide.
While a NIBIN lead alone does not distinguish, determine, or decide who the shooter is, it provides the best match – ballistically - of the associations between crimes, crime guns, and those who unlawfully possess them. It is a step forward for investigators who can continue to advance the investigation by leveraging the power of other investigative tools and processes, such as DNA, trace evidence, video intelligence, acoustic detection information, and other data, to complete the puzzle.
While Sheila Wallace will be deeply missed, it was the power of NIBIN that was able to offer justice and resolution to her heartbroken family while restoring a sense of peace to a fearful community by aiding the police and forensic experts in connecting all the pieces of the puzzle – resulting in good police work and a greater capacity to leverage forensic crime gun intelligence.