While others were busy soaking up sunshine at St. Paul's Indian Mounds Regional Park on Wednesday afternoon, Don Jackson was on a more sobering mission.
Jackson, 61, had made the seven-hour trek from his home in Freeman, Mo., to find the place where his brother, Jerry, was discovered last month frozen to death in a shack in the woods.
"I have to find out who he was. … I didn't know him for at least a decade," Jackson said. His pilgrimage included stopping at the neighborhood bar that his brother used to frequent and the church that he used to go to. He attended the burial services Thursday.
The body of Jerome Jackson, 58, was found Feb. 21 by a man searching for deer antlers at the park near Earl Street and Mounds Boulevard. According to preliminary autopsy results, Jackson, a homeless veteran, died from exposure to the cold.
At first, the Ramsey County medical examiner's office was having a hard time trying to find his next of kin, but after a story in the Pioneer Press, the office received tips and was able to locate Don Jackson.
On Thursday afternoon, Jerome Jackson's ashes were laid to rest at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where he joined thousands of other veterans. He had served in the Marines.
On the unusually warm Wednesday, Don Jackson trudged through the woods intent on finding the shack where his brother spent his last days. He knew the area well. When they were younger, he and his brother used to hang out there and hop the nearby trains to go down to the bluffs and witness the floods during the spring.
Jerome Jackson grew up with his family in the city's Midway neighborhood.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his mid-20s, though his brother suspected issues long before that. During the final two years of his life, Jerome Jackson had stopped taking his medicine and fell out of touch with his brother. Don Johnson would call the bar annually to find out how he was doing.
"He had these demons inside of him that made the exterior look awful bad. … Somehow you got to have some kind of closure. It's not right that he died. It's not right at all," Don Jackson said.
On Wednesday, he went down several sets of stairs that were thought to have been used by railroad workers in the past and made his way through mud and wet leaves until he found a structure perched on the bluff that looked like it was covered with a tent. But a man, who was presumably homeless and close to the structure, said that it was his tent and that he had erected it about a month ago — and that he didn't know Jerry. Don Jackson wasn't convinced, but he left anyway.
Despite not being able to say for sure if he found the place where his brother had lived, Don Jackson said he was glad that he was able to get a step closer to finding out who his brother was and meet some of the people who cared about him.
"He's in a better place than he was here."