EDITOR'S NOTE: Cold case stories highlight an unsolved crime every month as part of an effort by the Greater Peoria Area CrimeStoppers and Peoria police to solicit fresh information on dormant investigations.
PEORIA — Brian Alexander grew up on North New York Avenue surrounded by family — aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents all in the 1600 block, with another uncle less than a block away.
He was the last one still living in the East Bluff when he died there, gunned down nine years ago Wednesday in the alley behind his house, a few doors down from his childhood home.
"When we were growing up there as kids, it was one of the best middle class neighborhoods around," his brother, Brad Alexander, said. "Brian always said he'd be damned if he was going to be driven out of his own neighborhood."
Brian died just hours before a planned trip to Wisconsin to test drive a new snowmobile with friends. He was 44 years old and two weeks away from earning a master's degree that he hoped would help him become a nurse practitioner and move there permanently.
Already working as an intensive care nurse at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center at the time of his death, the profession fit perfectly because it required compassion as much as a commitment to learning.
"Brian was big on education and really big on helping people," Brad Alexander said, explaining why family started a nursing scholarship fund in Brian Alexander's name.
If those aspects of his personality represent Brian Alexander's life, then it is undoubtedly a gun that represents his death — not just a gun as a generic symbol of violence, but a specific firearm that police recovered a little more than a month later after one of the most high-profile incidents of shots fired in Peoria in that decade.
Police now acknowledge that the weapon used to kill Brian Alexander has been forensically linked to another Alexander — of no relation — who had the gun in his possession when he opened fire in crowded Woodruff High School hallway trying to shoot a rival.
Dione Alexander was 15 years old on the morning of Jan. 26, 2005 — 35 days after Brian Alexander's body was found — when he began chasing after another student and firing at him. Police said at the time that the pair had previously exchanged gunfire off school grounds.
Dione Alexander ultimately was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison — twice. But a trio of appellate judges twice overturned that sentence and made the unusual move of changing the sentence to six years, the minimum for the charges of which he was convicted.
He was released from prison soon afterward, only to be connected to a series of shooting incidents in Peoria in 2010 that resulted in an 11-year prison sentence last year. Dione Alexander is incarcerated in the Centralia Correctional Center, with a scheduled release date not yet determined.
Page 2 of 2 - Detective Shawn Curry said deciphering the origin of the gun used to kill Brian Alexander will be the key to unlocking who is responsible for the crime, because little is known about the actual circumstances of the death.
"Brian Alexander worked one of the most intense nursing jobs out there, taking care of people when they needed it the most," Curry said. "The best way we can honor him now is to solve his case — and that can happen if the right piece of information comes out."
After spending the evening with friends at the Red Barn tavern, Brian Alexander headed toward his house at 1618 N. New York Ave. about 1 a.m. Dec. 18, 2004. It wasn't until just before 8 a.m. that his body was found face-down in the alley outside his unattached garage, in an area where he would have walked to get back into his house.
His wallet was still in his pocket, the keys to his Jeep on the ground beside him. Nothing in the garage had been disturbed.
"Only two people know what happened," Brad Alexander said. "One's not here, and one's not telling."
Brad Alexander, however, can imagine the incident as a botched robbery. His brother would have put up a fight.
"Brian would have been that type," Brad Alexander said. "He wouldn't have given them anything."
On Wednesday, those who remember Brian Alexander will mark the grim milestone with a celebration of his life, first at the cemetery with a shot of red royal — a mixture of Crown Royal and amaretto — then at the Red Barn or the No Wake Zone.
"I know my family would just like to have some closure; we'd like to see a conviction," Brad Alexander said. "I don't want to see another family go through this."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.