For 16 years, Maria Ramirez and Billy Brooks Sr. have been searching for answers in the suspicious death of their 23-year-old son, Alonzo Brooks, who attended a party outside rural La Cygne, Kansas, on a chilly April night in 2004 and never returned.
A month later, his body was found in a nearby creek.
“I ask the same question every day for 16 years,” Maria told Dateline. “What happened to my son? It’s time for some answers.”
Maria said she hopes a renewed investigation by the FBI and a recent reward offer of $100,000 will help bring their family closer to the truth.
“Someone knows what happened to my son,” Maria said. “I think many people know. I just hope now they will have the courage and kindness in their heart to come forward.”
On June 11, 2020, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister and FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Langan announced that the FBI is investigating whether Alonzo was the victim of a racially motivated murder and have offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the individual or individuals that may be responsible for his death.
“His death certainly was suspicious, and someone -- likely multiple people -- know(s) what happened that night in April 2004,” McAllister said at the press conference on June 11. “It is past time for the truth to come out. The code of silence must be broken. Alonzo’s family deserves to know the truth, and it is time for justice to be served.”
Alonzo’s mother, Maria, told Dateline she remembers the evening of April 3, 2004 being a chilly one. Alonzo, who was 23 years old at the time, was getting ready to head out for a party for someone who was leaving to join the Navy. Maria told Alonzo to bundle up before he left.
“I know he was 23, but he was my baby,” Maria said. “I was always trying to protect him.”
Alonzo was the youngest of five children born to Maria and her now ex-husband, Billy Brooks Sr. After having a boy and three girls, several years passed and they were surprised to find out Maria was pregnant again.
“He was our surprise baby,” Maria told Dateline. “I remember he always used to tell me that I had him too late, because I wouldn’t let him go off with the older kids. But he was my baby. I had to protect him. But I couldn’t protect him from what happened to him.”
When Alonzo was in his early 20s, he moved from Topeka, Kansas, where he had been working with his dad, to his mother’s house in Gardner, Kansas. Maria described her son as a good-natured prankster who loved football, animals and playing with his nieces and nephews.
"He used to get behind me and just mess my hair up right after I had it fixed up, and I used to get so mad at him,” Maria said. "But now when I feel like my hair's being moved by the wind, I figure it's him doing it.”
She said he didn’t go out much and preferred to stay home and spend time with his family. But on April 3, 2004, Alonzo decided to go with some friends to the party in a rural area just outside of La Cygne in Linn County. He never made it home.
According to an investigation by the FBI, there were approximately 100 people ages of 16-25 at the party and Alonzo was one of only three African-American men in attendance.
U.S. Attorney McAllister said there were numerous reports of multiple fights breaking out and reports of racist comments being made. He added that Alonzo’s ride to the party had left without him. When Alonzo didn’t make it home by the next day, his family knew something was wrong.
They called the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and a search was launched by multiple agencies. A short time later, Alonzo’s boots and hat were found in the weeds just across the street from the farmhouse where the party had been held. Law enforcement searched the area on the ground and from the air, but no body was found.
About a month later, on May 1, 2004, Alonzo’s family organized their own search of the property and surrounding area. After less than an hour of searching, they found Alonzo’s body tangled in a brush pile in the creekbed of Middle Creek near the farmhouse.
Alonzo’s father and a family friend were the ones who spotted him.
“My God, it was awful,” Billy Brooks Sr. told Dateline. “To find my boy like that. Nothing can describe that pain.”
Billy said during their search that day, the skies had been overcast and threatened rain. But when they found Alonzo’s body, the skies cleared and the sun came out.
“It was like my boy was telling me everything was OK now,” Billy said. “At least we had found him. It wasn’t how we wanted to find him, but at least we did.”
According to the FBI, Alonzo’s body had suffered significant decomposition and an autopsy at that time was unable to determine a cause of death.
From the beginning, there were reports of foul play in Alonzo’s death, McAllister said. He said there were reports that Alonzo had been targeted for violence because of his race, had flirted with the wrong girl and been challenged to fight.
Alonzo’s mother told Dateline she believes her son was targeted for his race.
“I’m Mexican and his father is Black,” Maria said. “So he’s mixed. They didn’t just target one race. Or kill one race. They killed two. He was targeted because of the color of his skin.”
McAllister said that at the time, interviews with people who attended the party, “yielded no confession and shed no light on where Alonzo might be.”
"It defies reason to believe that Alonzo's death was a suicide or that he somehow accidentally tumbled into a relatively shallow creek, in Linn County, leaving behind his boots and hat, all with no witnesses whatsoever," McAllister said.
But for years, the case went cold. Until 2019, when the Netflix show “Official Unsolved Mysteries” brought the case to McAllister’s attention. The show is set to air on Netflix in July.
The Department of Justice and the FBI joined forces to reopen the case and have been actively investigating. With the recent announcement of a $100,000 reward, FBI Agent Leena Ramana told Dateline they have been receiving several tips and are continuing to follow multiple leads in the case.
“It’s been 16 years, but we hope that with this passage of time, someone who has information will come forward,” Ramana said. “Some of these kids, who are adults now, may have been scared to come forward before, or may not have known what they saw was important. But any piece of information is significant and could be the missing puzzle piece we need to solve this case.”
Alonzo’s father believes the reward money will urge someone to come forward.
“It’s a significant amount of money,” Billy Brooks said. “I hope it pushes someone to do the right thing and come forward.”
“It’s time,” Maria said. “It’s time to find out what happened to my baby. We’ve waited so long.”
Maria told Dateline she visits her son’s grave often and always asks him, “What happened to you?”
Josh Pratt, a filmmaker who lived in Paola, Kansas, at the time of Alonzo's death and knew many of the people at the party, has been trying to answer that question for Alonzo’s family for the past five years.
“I never met Alonzo, but being from the same area and about the same age, I felt some sort of connection to him,” Josh told Dateline. “He was just another guy like me trying to find his direction in life. And then it was all taken away from him.”
Josh and his team have been working on a documentary and accompanying podcast based on Alonzo’s case. Through investigative work and exclusive interviews with Alonzo’s closest friends and relatives, law enforcement, and even potential persons of interest, Josh explores different angles of the mystery that he hopes could one day lead to justice for Alonzo.
Josh created a forum on his website for those interested in the story or for those who may have information about what happened that night.
“There hasn’t been a day that goes by that I don’t work on Alonzo’s case or think of him,” Josh said. “We’re in this for the long haul and we’re not going to stop until we find out what happened.”
Alonzo’s family continues to search for answers in his case. A Facebook page “Justice for Alonzo Brooks” was created to discuss the case and help spread awareness.
If Alonzo were alive today, he would have turned 40 years old on May 19. His father told Dateline he always wonders what kind of man his son would have turned out to be and what sort of life he would have led.
“We missed out on his whole life,” Maria said. “Someone took that away from us. And someone -- or several people -- know what happened to him. We just want to know. He is my baby and I can’t protect him anymore, but I can do this. I can find out what happened. I can get justice for him.”
Anyone with information about Alonzo’s case is urged to call the FBI at 816-512-8200 or 816-474-TIPS or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.