Update: Miami Gardens Police announced Friday that officers arrested Lerio Minnis, 25, on charges of second-degree murder and firing a weapon into a residence. He surrendered to police at a family residence and was taken to jail, where he remains without bond, police said.
For two weeks, 63-year-old Danette Johnson-Simmons anguished over Chase, her beloved 3-year-old Yorkie. The dog had gone missing from the woman’s Miami Gardens home.
Then on April 4 there was a knock on her door. A few minutes later Johnson-Simmons was dead, the victim of a fatal gunshot wound from a man who has been repeatedly charged with violent offenses, but whom courts have never managed to convict, according to police.
Two weeks later Johnson-Simmons’ family is still grieving and stunned over her death, and police continued to search for 25-year-old Lerio Minnis, whom they consider armed and dangerous and who they say may have altered his appearance.
Police say Minnis ended Johnson-Simmons’ life over Chase, the family pet who is now living safely with other family members.
“It’s senseless, absolutely senseless,” said Miami Gardens Police Maj. Gary Smith, the lead detective on the case.
Police say that for a period of time during Chase’s two-week absence, Minnis had possession of the Yorkie. Somehow the pet returned to Johnson-Simmons’ home in the 18800 block of Northwest 17th Court, police and family said, either on his own or because someone brought him to her.
Then, police say, when Minnis learned of Chase’s whereabouts, he approached Johnson-Simmons, either demanding she return the animal or asking for a reward.
In either case, police say, Minnis shot the woman over the dog.
“She was brutally murdered in her home by someone that wanted something that wasn’t theirs,” said Johnson-Simmons’ sister Courtney Johnson. “You came there to take a life because you came with a gun. My sister, Dee, was an awesome and wonderful person.”
On Wednesday, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, police brass and Johnson-Simmons’ family members gathered at police headquarters urging Minnis to turn himself in and asking the public to help lead police to him.
“There’s not a lot of words that need to be said about this. Someone knows where he is. Can you find it in your heart to call Crime Stoppers? Can you find it in your heart to call Miami Gardens police? We need the community’s help,” Gilbert said.
Johnson explained the pain she felt over the loss of her sister, a weekly church-goer and a woman often referred to by friends and family as “Grandma Dee Dee.” Johnson said her sister lost her husband a few years ago, but dotes over the five children and numerous grandchildren she inherited through marrying her husband.
At the time of her death, Johnson-Simmons worked security at a local Walmart. She was a new board member of “A Better Me,” a nonprofit that helps young women with their growth and careers. Johnson said she last spoke with her sister the day before she was killed.
“At any point, at any time you could knock on her door and get a meal, a place to stay,” Johnson said. “The day I found out my sister was murdered it was almost like a nightmare, my ego could not let it go. But I realize now this is one thing I cannot change.”
Police didn’t offer much background on Minnis. State records show he has been arrested five times by Miami Gardens police since 2011, mostly on battery and domestic violence charges. In each case the charges were dropped.
On Wednesday, facing the media and row of cameras, Johnson told the man suspected of ending her sister’s life to come forward. She said at first she refused to accept her sister’s death and kept thinking maybe police had hidden her away somewhere in an attempt to lure the shooter. But in the past week, she’s managed to accept her loss.
“Her body is gone,” Johnson said. “But her spirit is in so many of our hearts.”