‘You never expect a death like that’: Yore Jieng’s case remains open

May 25, 2023

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This series examines the life, death and impact of Yore Jieng. The reporting for this article was original and conducted by a team of reporters from Iowa State University from March until May. Submit tips regarding Yore Jieng at Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa.

Several shell casings sit scattered on the ground of Keo Way. Except for a bank bearing a cracked window,  Des Moines police officers can find no other evidence to account for the crime that just occurred. Across the street, a 14-year-old boy lies in the hospital with five days left to live.

Yore Jieng was a 14-year-old student at Roosevelt High School when he was shot by one of at least five bullets during a drive-by shooting Oct. 24, 2016. No arrests have been made in his death, and the case remains open and unsolved.

Yore left home that Monday with his sisters and youngest brother to get McDonald’s. On the way to get food, one of Yore’s sisters, Nyeduel, was dropped off at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center to visit a cousin. As she waited in the lobby, someone came through the entrance screaming, “My brother got shot.”

Nyeduel did not think much of the yelling until she realized it was her sister. Nyeduel asked her sister what was going on, but her sister was too panicked to respond.

“When I walked toward the exit, my little brother walked toward me, so it was not him, and then I see my little brother, Yore, in the passenger seat,” Nyeduel said. “He was laid out. That’s when the nurses and other people came up and escorted him to the bed at the hospital.”

Yore was sitting in the passenger seat of the car when he was shot. His sister had been driving, and his 7-year-old brother was riding in the back seat behind Yore. The car was sitting at 12th Street and Keosauqua Way, facing north, waiting for the light to turn green. Yore’s sister and younger brother recounted hearing gunshots as they waited for the light. 

Yore’s younger brother noticed he had slumped over in his seat. Their older sister, looked to the passenger seat only to realize Yore had been shot in the head.

The Iowa Methodist Medical Center was just down the street, so Yore’s sister drove straight to the hospital. 

Nyeduel called her other brother to notify the family about what happened to Yore, and from there the word spread. Soon after, Yore’s family and members of his church arrived at the hospital. 

But Nyekuoth Jieng, one of Yore’s older sisters, had been staying in New York for work Oct. 24. When she arrived home from work, Nyekuoth dropped to her knees when a friend told her Yore had been shot.

“I kept telling myself, he’s gonna come out of this,” Nyekuoth said. “He’s gonna survive. I’m gonna go home and my brother’s gonna be OK.”

Yore lived until Oct. 29, five days after he was shot.

Because Yore’s sister went straight to the hospital, Des Moines police Sgt. Paul Parizek said, there could not have been faster healthcare for him, and that was likely the reason Yore survived for five days.

The investigation

Parizek, the public information officer for the Des Moines Police Department, managed communication with the press at the time of Yore’s death. The lead investigator on the case was not available for comment.

The police responded to the shooting after receiving a call from the hospital, Parizek said. They went to the hospital first to get a general idea of the shooting and then went to the scene.

When police arrived at the scene, Parizek said, more than five shell casings were found, but additional casings could have been removed from the scene. There were a couple impacts from the shooting on Earlham State Bank, but Parizek said this was the extent of physical evidence found.

“You got some solid forensic evidence when you start talking about shell casing,” Parizek said. “You got to find the guy to connect them to.”

The Des Moines Police Department reached out to nearby businesses, Roosevelt High School and individuals who were friends with Yore. During the investigation, someone came forward with car camera footage around the time Yore and his siblings were driving by that area. 

In the video, there is a silver Chevy Equinox without license plates and a window down on the driver’s rear side. On Keo Way, Parizek said after the gunshots, the Equinox made an aggressive turn in front of a line of cars and then entered onto the freeway going east. 

Based on how the car was driving, Parizek said there was likely more than one person in the car. 

“It’s a challenge to drive a car and shoot rounds out of the window, particularly if you are shooting rounds out of the passenger window,” Parizek said. 

Limited leads

The bullet that killed Yore came in from the back windshield and was the only bullet that hit the car, which was a borrowed vehicle. Some family members believe it was a case of mistaken identity.

“I believe it was the wrong person, and they shot at the wrong person,” Nyeduel said. “[…]It happened out of nowhere; it was like a crazy thing that happened.”

Parizek said anybody could have been hit by the bullets, and there is no way to confirm what the shooter was targeting. 

None of the footage that was turned over to the police showed gunfire coming from the car.

“We have no clue who is inside that car, and we haven’t even located that car,” Parizek said. “But, we put that out to the public to get some information.”

Parizek said the suspected Equinox is the best lead the department has to this day. 

“It is possible they [the Equinox driver] might have witnessed the whole thing, and they were just trying to get away, and that is why they were driving so fast,” Parizek said. “If we get hyper-focused on one thing, we’ll miss other things.” 

Parizek said there were many people who drove on Keo Way the day Yore was shot who shared leads, but none were substantial. Individuals who are closest to the crime are often the ones who do not come forward with information, Parizek said.

“You run into the same problem that we run into with our open cases where there’s people who know what happened, [but] nobody wants to tell us,” Parizek said.

Parizek said there is a difference between knowing who possibly committed the crime and proving it in court. 

“I know sometimes the community struggles with that,” Parizek said. “Yeah, we all know, but that is not good enough for court, and we only get one shot. Let’s say we charge someone because we know. We get in there, and we get destroyed because we don’t have good evidence. That is over; we don’t get to go back.” 

Since Yore’s death, Parizek said there have been candlelight vigils and murals painted in his memory, and the impact on the community was huge.

“People are keeping his memory alive which keeps the case alive,” Parizek said. “We can sit in here all day long and do our investigative work, but as long as in the community people are saying his name, people are remembering who he was and people are remembering and seeing there is still a family that’s struggling […]. That presence, sooner or later, you hope that’ll weigh on someone who has the answers that we need.”

Parizek said the coverage of the homicide is what prompted the individual with the video of the Equinox to come forward, but that was the only solid lead to come out of the traffic reports. 

There is no statute of limitations for homicides, so the case will remain open until it is solved.

“We go on TV, and we plead. We get on our Facebook page, and we plead […]. We beg for people to bring us information,” Parizek said. “If you can sit there and watch that and not respond to us, there is someplace special for you.” 

After seven years, Nyeduel said she believes more could be done to discover who killed Yore.

“It was hard for my family because you never expect a death like that – that is close to us like that,” Nyeduel said. “It was new to us, and it was kind of scary at the same time, but we had to keep it together for our family. We had to stay strong for him because he was a strong boy. He loved to smile […] and we had to keep going because you can’t sit. It was a tough situation.”

Read part three of reporting on Yore Jieng’s impact.

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