13 INVESTIGATES: Two boys - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL


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The violence of September 15, 1963 was not isolated to the corner of 16th Street and 6th Avenue North in Birmingham.

The girls lost in this vicious church bombing were only four of the city's casualties that dark day.

Leon Robinson remembers that day well.

He lost his 16 year old brother, Johnnie, only blocks from the bombing.

For decades, his brother's death, and the murder of 13 year old Virgil Ware have received very little historical recognition. 

"History should be told.  People should know what actually happened to all six of the kids.

But a lot of people don't even know," Robinson pointed out.

That's what motivated us to start digging.

So we visited the archive room at the Birmingham Library.

We sifted through records of both boys' deaths; including the entire FBI investigative file on Johnnie Robinson from 1964.

About five hours after the church bombing, 16 year old Johnnie Robinson and four of his friends were standing near a gas station at 26th Street and 8th Avenue North, where Abraham Woods Boulevard now intersects with Carraway Boulevard near Red Mountain Expressway.

Multiple witnesses told the FBI that a police car showed up at the scene after hearing reports of teenagers throwing rocks at cars after someone in a car threw a soda bottle at the teens.

James Jemison was playing football only a block away and remembers the police response.

"Riding five deep in the car.  And they all had shotguns.  And they said to us if we don't get off the street if five minutes all ya'll going to jail.  So, you know that kind of scared us a little bit," Jemison recalled.

In the FBI file, one witness said, "He saw two of the Negroes run into the alley.  He said he saw one of the officers stick a long gun out of the car and fire.  He said he heard two shots."

Johnnie Robinson was shot in the back with multiple buckshot pellets and died at the scene.

The officer who pulled the trigger was 48 year old veteran Jack Parker.

At the time, Officer Parker claimed his gun accidentally discharged.

Both a county grand jury and a federal grand jury refused to indict him.

Parker was never charged and died in 1977.

Dana Gillis is a retired FBI Agent.

When the Bureau reopened Robinson's case in 2009, he was the agent who met with the Robinson family to tell them, after a thorough review, the investigation was closed.

When asked if he thought Robinson had been murdered, Gillis replied, "You know, from an investigative standpoint we're just looking at the facts of the case.  And it's hard to say what transpired or the intent behind it.  From a factual standpoint, we know that the officer had a shotgun; the trigger on that shotgun was pulled.  And the result was the death of Johnnie Robinson."

About two hours after Robinson's death, around 5:00 PM, Virgil Ware was riding on his brother James' bicycle handlebars, while James pedaled, on Sandusky Road in north Jefferson County.

Two white teenagers approached on a motorbike.

One pulled out a pearl-handled pistol and fired twice.

"When he hit the ground, I stood over him.  He said, ‘Ware, I've been shot.'  I told him, ‘No you weren't', for him to get up.  He never did move," James Ware remembered.

Virgil Ware died.

Dan Jordan, now 84, investigated Ware's murder.

Within days, Jordan collected enough evidence to charge Larry Joe Sims as the shooter and Michael Lee Farley as his accomplice.

Farley pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter and received probation.

A jury convicted Sims of second degree manslaughter and the judge sentenced him to seven months in jail.   

"My partner and I and my Sheriff Mel Bailey, we did everything we could to find out who the killers were.

And then we saw how easily that had gotten of with it.  No, we did not like that, I did not have much respect for that judge after that," Jordan said of the jury and judge's treatment of the case.

In 2003, 40 years after Virgil Ware's death, Larry Joe Sims called Melvin Ware; one of Virgil's other brothers.

"He asked me would I forgive him.  I told him yes," Melvin Ware claimed.

Ware said Sims claimed he and Farley had attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting the night before Virgil's murder.

"They told them to shoot the first 'N' that they see.  And so James and Virgil just happened to be the first two that they saw on that next day," Melvin Ware concluded.

On that day, four girls and two boys were lost and a racially-torn city was forced to move forward together.


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