For more than a decade after she immigrated from Liberia, Beatrice Wilson regularly and enthusiastically attended services at Brookdale Covenant Church with her grandchildren in tow, including 14-year-old Peter, a quiet and respectful seventh-grader.
But Associate Pastor Renee Franzen doesn't recall the outgoing 57-year-old grandmother ever mentioning a son.
Now relatives say her 22-year-old son, Ishmael Wilson Roberts, is in an Iowa jail, suspected of brutally stabbing his mother and nephew Peter to death early Monday in the family's north Minneapolis home. What no one seems to understand is why.
"I'd love to know," Franzen said Tuesday after placing a floral bouquet on the front stoop of the home, where police continued their investigation more than a day after the slayings.
Roberts, who has not been formally charged in the killings, is at the Black Hawk County jail in Waterloo, where he is accused of wrecking a car belonging to Beatrice Wilson and running from police. He is accused of car theft, leaving the scene of an accident, public intoxication, fleeing police and other charges.
"We have two homicide sergeants [in Iowa] trying to find out information, but we are reasonably certain that this is the person" who killed Wilson and her grandson, said Minneapolis Police Sgt. Stephen McCarty on Tuesday.
Philip Segbee, whose wife is Beatrice Wilson's niece, said Tuesday that Peter Wilson was the son of the suspect's brother, who still lives in Liberia.
Even to the family, a motive remains unclear.
"We don't know why. He [Roberts] was not even living here," Segbee said. "He was gone for a while, and all of a sudden he just came back and did such a thing."
Segbee said Roberts was last known to have lived in Portland, Ore., with a sister. Although Roberts appears to have no criminal past in Minnesota, records reveal a number of minor charges in Oregon, including interfering with public transportation, public indecency and trespassing. At one time he shared the same address as his mother in the 1200 block of 10th Avenue N. where she and Peter were killed. Neighbors say at least one other child, who ran next door for help just before 4:30 a.m., was in the house at the time. Beatrice and Peter Wilson were pronounced dead at the scene.
Waterloo police say they were led to the man when a vehicle rollover was reported early Monday evening, about 14 hours and 200 miles removed from the slayings. Witnesses told police the driver climbed over a fence to get away. Officers found him about nine blocks from the crash scene and subdued him with a Taser.
The car he was driving belonged to Wilson and was the subject of a multi-state law-enforcement alert, McCarty said. Waterloo Police Lt. Michael McNamee said officers have recovered other evidence and turned it over to Minneapolis authorities.
Wilson's family said she was their matriarch, taking in grandchildren, nieces and nephews and raising them as her own in the spacious, well-kept duplex in a quiet neighborhood northwest of downtown. Their anguish was clear Monday, as relatives descended upon the scene, held back by police as they tore at their clothes in grief and collapsed on the ground. She had worked as a nursing assistant at the Minneapolis Veterans Home for more than six years.
Franzen said Wilson regularly came to church with Peter and his older brother, Christian, 15. The church sent Peter to summer camp this year. Funeral arrangements have not been made, but Franzen said the church will be available for the family. A vigil to honor her memory may be scheduled soon.
"She was a lovely, caring, compassionate woman. She was loved in the Liberian community, and she was loved in our community, as well," Franzen said, referring to the diverse, multi-generational church in Brooklyn Center.
Franzen recalled last seeing Wilson at last Sunday's service. It was a big day as the church rolled out a project for adopting and sponsoring children in the Congo. "She was there and gave me a huge smile. We embraced and she was so happy. I gave her a kiss and sent her on her way," Franzen said. "She was just happy to be there and be a part of things. That's just the kind of person she was."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921 Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482