WASHINGTON - Seven years ago, a Fourth of July tradition was shattered forever when five gunmen surrounded a group of friends and announced a stick-up. The men were setting up grills for their annual cookout when one of them decided to fight back.
A shot was fired and 66-year-old John Pernell lost his life. His murder remains unsolved.
Vernon Wise had only been in the yard on Nelson Place for a few minutes when the memories of the July 3rd shooting came roaring back.
"It’s hard to relive stuff like that when you see stuff like that,” Wise said. “I seen him get shot.”
He said it all happened in the blink of an eye. Three gunman entered from the street while two others jumped the fence.
"When they put that gun in my face and told me to lay down, it don't take a rocket scientist to figure that out, and like I said, from what I been through already before, I'm going to cooperate,” said Wise.
But Pernell did not. The retired protective service officer decided he was going to fight back.
"To me, all of his instincts, all of his job training and that last conversation we had, it all kicked in, it all kicked in, and when I see him go into action and do what he did, I could just only think of our last conversation,” said Wise.
Pernell took a shot to the hand from one gunman and a fatal blow to the neck from another.
“The gunman had a .45 automatic,” Wise recalled. “That gun sounded like a cannon.”
The police report says the gunmen did not get away with much – $50, a phone and some credit cards.
D.C. police said the gunmen got away in a black Chevy Malibu. Thirty minutes after the robbery, a black Chevy Malibu was set on fire in the 1000 block of Ute Way right off of Capitol Heights Boulevard in Maryland. But to this date, no direct link has ever been established between the car fire and the robbery.
Over the years, two different detectives have investigated the case without turning up any real promising leads.
"MPD again has interviewed numerous individuals that we believe may have had information,” said D.C. Police Lt. Anthony Haythe. “Individuals that we believe may know the involvement of some others. We have done that, and again to date, we have not received any information.”
Haythe said police have not been able to come up with a suspect or a person of interest connected to this case.
"Knowing the type of person that he was, he didn't deserve to die like that,” said Pernell’s daughter, Yolanda Voglezon. “He deserved to die in his bed at an advanced age surrounded by his children, his grandchildren.”
Voglezon and her sister, Ayana Pernell, are the kind of siblings who finish off each other’s sentences. The love for their dad is plain to see.
"Outgoing, zany, loud," said Ayana. "That was the biggest descriptor – loud, funny."
“I remember we would go out to eat at restaurants and he would talk to people, and afterwards we would ask him, ‘Where do you know them from?’ [He said], ‘Oh, I don't know them,'" said Voglezon. "Very social."
John Pernell lived on Nelson Place in Southeast D.C. where he and his friends would talk about everything from the Washington Redskins to music.
Pernell worked for decades as a protective services officer in the District policing the Reeves Municipal Center and the Wilson Building. He had been retired for some time when those five gunmen walked into the yard.
"On one hand, I feel this sense of pride because he wanted to help his neighbors, he didn't want anyone to be hurt, I feel that he was brave,” said Voglezon. “But then there is that piece of me that wishes that he didn't, that he had complied like everyone else.”
Ayana Pernell added, “But knowing him, who he was, that wasn’t something that he was going to take lying down.”
Wise set up a memorial right after John died. A Redskins hat and a statue was placed there. Time has clearly taken its toll on the tribute to Pernell, but certainly not in Wise's memory of his friend.
"Words cannot explain," said Wise.
There is a $25,000 reward for information in this case. If you know anything that might help police close the case, call 202-727-9099.