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Updated: Monday, 18 May 2009, 8:03 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 18 May 2009, 5:38 PM EDT
WRIGHT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) -
On Tuesday, Troy Brake's trial for the murders of four people in Wright Township begins. 24 Hour News 8's Ken Kolker will cover the trial. In a previous article, he talked with the man who lost his wife and two sons in the murders. In this article, he looks at the four people who were killed.
The warrant charging Troy Brake with murder includes the names of four victims: Sharmaine Zimmer, her sons, Jeremy and Tyler, and Jeremy's girlfriend, Katherine Brown.
But there are many more victims -- those who mourn and, as the trial is set to begin on Tuesday, wonder why.
-- A mother -- who lost her daughter and two grandsons -- who is trying to understand God's plan.
"Well, I don't like it, but I can't go against what God says to do, what he wants to do," Sharmaine's mother, Charmaine Tolar, said.
-- A best friend who visits Katherine Brown's gravesite regularly, talks to her on Facebook and in dreams.
"She like hugged me in my dream and said, 'Everything will be OK," Gina Fynewever said.
-- A childhood friend who hasn't figured how to deal with the loss.
"I don't really know," said Lee Constantine, who grew up with Jeremy Zimmer. "I really don't know how you would handle something like this. I don't know how you're supposed to."
-- And, co-workers of a young man they called T-Bone -- Tyler Zimmer -- who started working at the Heft & Heft dairy farm near Coopersville at age 13. He started at 3:45 every morning.
"He was never late, except the morning that he was murdered the night before," farm owner Gary Heft said.
It happened early in the morning on Sept. 29, in a yellow, two-story house on Eighth Avenue, across from St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
Brake, 31, is accused shooting Sharmaine Zimmer and her sons, Jeremy and Tyler, so he could rape Katherine Brown. Prosecutors say he targeted Brown, a woman he could not have.
He already has been convicted of raping and brutally beating a prostitute in Grand Rapids. Prosecutors there have called him evil.
To friends, the Zimmers' was a party house. Neighbors say the parties sometimes got out of hand, with loud music into the early morning. Once, their bonfire caught the neighbor's fence on fire. Neighbors say they sometimes called police.
But the parties, friends says, were only a small part of their lives.
There was Sharm Zimmer, 53: mother, bartender, collected Precious Moments, stitched blankets for gifts, bowled on Monday nights. She called her mother at the nursing home most nights, usually about 9 p.m., and talked for a half-hour.
"She was not just my daughter, she was my best friend," said her mother, Charmaine Tolar, 79, who lives at Metron of Lamont nursing home.
Sharm's 16-year-old sister, Katy, died in a crash in 1970 -- a death that drew her closer to her mother.
"We just helped each other get through that time, and, like I say, that's what brought us so very close together," her mother said.
It was no surprise, she says, that her daughter opened her home to a boy named Troy Brake years ago. He was 12 or 13 and had lived next door. Brake stayed with the Zimmers for a time after his family moved away.
She recalls Brake playing with the older Zimmer boys.
"I thought he was a nice kid, I thought," Tolar said. "I never thought anything bad about him."
Now, she's trying to understand how he might have returned to kill.
"Until he tells us why, I'll never understand why. I can't even imagine why."
Lee Constantine has his own questions, but he also has good memories, of the Zimmers and the Zimmer home.
"It was basically a hang-out place," said Constantine, 20. "It was just a cool place. We all knew that if there's nothing going on, we could all go there and hang out.
"They definitely liked to have fun. That's why I think everyone liked Jeremy and the Zimmers because you know if you're going to hang out with him or Tyler, you're going to have fun."
He remembers football in the back yard with Jeremy as boys, basketball across the street at St. Joseph's. And, he remembers how Jeremy, such a smooth talker, was also such a good listener.
"He was always a friend you could talk to," he said. "And he was the kind of person that cared about what you had to say."
While attending Coopersville High School, Jeremy Zimmer and Constantine talked of their plans -- of moving to California and becoming movie critics.
They often went to movies together -- American Pie, Ironman, Jumper.
"We've always had big dreams, you know," Constantine said.
Jeremy, 20, went to Grand Rapids Community College and, lately, had talked of owning a landscape company.
Then, came Katherine Brown, 18.
"I don't think Jeremy ever felt about a girl the way he felt about Katherine," Constantine said. "She was kind of like one of the guys. She was friends with all of Jeremy's friend, and everyone like Katherine."
Photographs help Gina Fynewever remember Katherine. "This is our sophomore year," she says, pointing to a photograph of girls in homecoming dresses and, notably, without boys. "The dateless girls."
Katherine ran on the Coopersville High School track and cross-country teams, inspired by her mother, Natalie, who runs in the Boston Marathon. She lost her father, James Sr., several years ago in a car crash.
Yet, she still had an infectious smile, Fynewever said.
"She was crazy," she said. "She was so funny. If you were having an off-day, she'd say something, or she'd be the first to hug and say, 'Oh, I love you.' She'd crack a joke at just the right time, just to make you laugh."
Katherine started dating Jeremy Zimmer last summer.
She went to Michigan State University, following in the steps of her father, and studied agribusiness.
On Sept. 28, she spent the night at the Zimmers.
It was Katherine Brown, police say, who was targeted by Troy Brake. He wanted her and could not have her. It's still not clear how and when that started.
Friends of Brown had never heard of Brake, until all of this. They have lots of questions.
"It's just really random," Fyneweaver said. "So, I think a lot of people are just questioning why, in their heads, because it doesn't make sense."
Katherine still appears in her friend's dreams. Friends still talk to her on Facebook.
Fynewever sent this message to Katherine's Facebook page in April:
"nothing will ever be the same without you here katty..i saw this girl in starbucks the other day, she wore her hair like you, i could've swore it was you..i took three looks and still couldve sworn it was you....it makes me furious just knowing..everything....i love you with all my heart, and i pray you're safe with your dad now, i still wish i could turn back time..make it all go back to normal, i would give anything just to see you again, love. life is so jacked up and everything just seems worse, and it isnt gettng easier...i dont think this ever will...i miss you so mini me."
And, sometimes, friends talk to her at her unmarked grave.
Gina last visited the cemetery a month ago.
"Just kind of sat there and didn't really say anything, kind of cried a little bit, told her I missed her and I loved her," she said.
Tyler (T-Bone) Zimmer
Among the victims, it was Tyler, 17, who, perhaps, was the most misunderstood -- a high school drop-out who didn't get along with his teachers.
But, ask his boss at the Heft dairy farm, on Roosevelt Street.
"He'd ride his four-wheeler through the fields, in winter, he'd ride through the snow through the field, and he was always here on time, every morning," said farm co-owner Gary Heft.
They called him T-Bone. He was 13 when he started on the farm, lived 4 miles away. He had one goal: To be a farmer. He bought two bulls, both still at the farm.
"That's T-bone, the bull," Heft said, pointing out the black-and-white steer in a crowd of cows on the farm.
T-Bone wanted a new truck, a new car, a new four-wheeler.
"He had a lot of dreams, that's kind of, I think, why he worked so hard, anything he could to move forward," said co-worker and friend, Eric Wurn.
When he started at the farm, he was a rough-edged kid.
"The first time I met the little guy, he had the foulest mouth I ever met," Heft said. "He was calling his mother every name in the book."
That's where Heft drew the line. He had a talk with T-Bone. After that, the boy helped his mother around the house, helped pay back taxes, once borrowed money to buy her a birthday gift.
It was Sept. 29, early in the morning, still dark. Heft was in the milking parlor when Eric Wurn walked in.
"I said, 'Where is that stumpy little son-of-a-bitch this morning?'" Heft recalls. "He (Wurn) just started crying. He said, 'He's dead.' And I sat there. 'He's dead?'"
The calendar in the Heft barn is still open to September, and the 29th is marked: "Lost our best friend (T-Bone)."
"That's about all I can tell you," Heft said. "He was a pretty good kid, and didn't deserve what he got."