Slain Man Was Seeking a Better Life for His Family
January 12, 2010
John Walters moved with his family to Lakeland in 2003 in hopes of a better life.
The small city he moved from, Springfield, Mass., has a history of violent crime that was only getting worse, his daughter Priscilla Copeland said. Walters wanted to get away from that.
He wanted to live somewhere safe.
Knowing that only made it harder for his family to come to terms with the 51-year-old’s violent death in Lakeland, and even harder for them to continue living each day knowing his killer hasn’t been caught.
Lakeland police say Walters was shot to death Jan. 12, 2010, after coming home from the store. The father of five worked as a live-in maintenance man for Yami’s Hair Braiding on Memorial Boulevard.
A customer found his body about 10:30 a.m. that morning next to his van, which was parked behind the brightly colored building. Police said it appears someone fired two bullets — one striking Walters in the chest and another hitting the van.
Police say the shooting may have been an attempted robbery.
Walters had a routine that someone could’ve easily followed, Copeland said.
Detective Russ Hurley, who is investigating the case, said recently he’s had several leads, all of which point to a robbery, but he doesn’t have anything concrete.
And without more information, an innocent man’s killer might still be on the streets, he said.
Walters’ death is one of 37 cold cases and unsolved homicides The Ledger is profiling as part of a continuing series in partnership with the Lakeland Police Department.
Police detectives say they hope that with a little extra time to focus on the unsolved murders and with help from the community, they’ll be able to solve more of the cases. And, in turn, bring closure to many more families.
“It’s always sad when a human life is taken,” Hurley said. “They all have families, mothers and brothers.
“Anybody who has any information on any homicide should come forward. With these murderers on the street, it just makes it dangerous for everybody.”
You might have seen Walters around downtown Lakeland or Winter Haven painting and fixing up old buildings. He was a handyman, with a talent for carpentry and painting, Copeland said. He could do just about anything someone needed help with. And he’d do it all with a smile on his face.
So, when Walters met the owners of Yami’s Hair Braiding, he learned they were in need of someone to look after the shop and act as a security guard for the building. He moved right in, his oldest daughter, Crystal Brown, said.
“At the hair braiding place, he got to know some of the clients, and he really grew fond of the people there,” she said. “He would take them places, whatever they needed. He just really liked to help other people.”
His daughters said Walters didn’t have many close friends in Lakeland, but his family meant most to him.
“He was really about his grandkids,” Brown said.
“That was his life,” Copeland added. “He lived his life for his grandkids. And he finally got his first granddaughter, and he was really excited about that because he loves us, his girls. He was over the moon about his granddaughter.”
Since his death, the sisters started a foundation called Stand Up Speak Out in honor of their dad. Brown said their family holds rallies and forums to help educate the community about crime and to raise awareness about Walters’ death.
The foundation’s goal is to bring the community together to stand up against violence and speak out if something does happen, Brown said.
“There are a lot of senseless crimes, in my opinion, that take place, and without the help of people that know what’s going on, we’re going to continue to live in a community where there are senseless crimes going on,” she said.
Copeland said knowing who killed her father would bring relief and closure to their family.
“Right now, we don’t know,” she said. “We can’t put anything together, and that’s the scariest thing.”
And if someone with information doesn’t want to come forward to help her family, they should want to do it for the community as a whole.
“You just want to feel safe and secure in your own community,” she said. “You want to know that your community supports you in any way, form or fashion.”
Stephanie Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7550.