While everyone else was busy soaking up sunshine at Indian Mounds Regional Park on Wednesday afternoon, Don Jackson was on a more sobering mission.
Jackson, 61, had taken the 7-hour trek from his home in Missouri 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, about his pilgrimage that included stopping at the neighborhood bar that his brother used to frequent and the church that he used to go to.
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 will be laid to rest at Fort Snelling National Cemetery where he will join thousands of other veterans. Jerome Jackson had served in the U.S. Marines.
On the unusually warm Wednesday, Don Jackson trudged through the woods intent on finding the shack that his brother spent his last days. Don Jackson knew the area well. When they were younger, he and his brother used to hang out in the area and hop the nearby trains to come down to the bluffs and witness the flooding during the spring. Jerome Jackson grew up with his family in the city's Midway neighborhood.
Jackson was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his mid-20s though his brother suspected issues long before that. During the last two years of his life, Jerome Jackson had stopped taking his medicine. While Don Jackson had fallen out of touch with his brother in recent years, he would call the bar annually to find out how his brother 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, Don Jackson went down a set of stairs that were thought to be 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 by the structure, said that it was his tent that he had erected 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 into finding out who his brother was and meet some of his brother's friends who cared about him.
"He's in a better place than he was here."