A Promising Life & Career Was Cut Short By A College Brawl
Investigators say Jihad Amir Ramadan has been on the run since 2005. The U.S. Marshals say he's wanted for murder and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
HAMPTON, VA — Cheryl Pitts-Bryant hasn't been the same since her son's tragic death, but she still has hope the killer will be captured.
On July 17, 2005, Byron Bryant, also known as "BJ," was a studious, ambitious college student with big dreams — who was murdered. According to investigators, since the killing, the suspect, now 32-year-old Jihad Amir Ramadan, has been on the run.
BJ, a gifted football player, made a thoughtful and specific decision to attend Hampton University in Virginia, mainly to follow the advice of his mom. Pitts-Bryant said, "He wanted to go to Howard University, but I just felt it was too urban ... and I felt like it would be too dangerous."
Although BJ was recruited by other colleges, his mother's influence was one of the main reasons he attended Hampton. Pitts-Bryant said it's called the "university by the sea" because of the beautiful body of water surrounding the area and the yachts floating by. It was just the type of community she longed for her son to be involved in.
BJ decided not to play football at Hampton, instead, he set his sites on representing the players and wanting to become an entertainment attorney. Ashley Hoskins, BJ's hometown friend, said if anyone was going to achieve that goal it was going to be her friend: "He was so so so so smart, I mean ... BJ could take a test and not open the book and ace the test."
BJ had a large support group of friends and he came from a close-knit Texas family. His sister Kelly Bryant sat down with In Pursuit, sharing, "Our family is about church, community, sports, and food. My mother, my father, my grandmother, people at church, my youth pastors were always telling us, love each other." She continued, "You just would think he was an older man with a career already, he just carried himself in that way ... a lot of people had respect for him."
While attending school full-time, his family says BJ couldn't sit still — he held three jobs. One position on campus, one off campus, and on weekends you could find him with his lawn mower, cutting grass.
It seemed BJ was unstoppable, but in the summer of 2005, his dreams would be cut short forever. Investigators say he was out at a new Ethiopian restaurant and bar in town with friends from the football team. At the same bar, a group of guys from New York were also in the crowd.
BJ's friend Ashley Hoskins says, "New Yorkers have this sense of ego about themselves, I mean they are from New York City, they thought we had barrels of hay running around our front yard and we rode horses to school." What some didn't know was that behind the scenes, and well before that night, tensions were brewing between the local football clique and the New York group.
It seemed inevitable that night that the groups would clash, and they did. Later in the evening, a slur was hurled and punches were thrown. Police say the group fight whittled down to a one-on-one between BJ and David "Ice" Ifill. The issue stemmed from two weeks earlier, when Ifill and BJ's long-time childhood friend Ronnie Chase were arguing over a girl.
Although friends say BJ won the one-on-one fight with Ifill, the New York guys didn't like the outcome and they began to jump BJ. In the middle of the chaos, BJ was fighting off four or five guys at once — and one of the men, police say, was Jihad Ramadan. It was Ramadan who allegedly pulled out a knife and stabbed BJ.
BJ was on the ground fighting for his life when cops and first responders arrived and tried to save him. Hampton Police Captain Karen Alba said there a lot of witnesses and many were willing to give information about exactly what they saw: "Bryant's friends just ran to him ... he was like, 'Am I okay?’ ... no one could even figure where the blood came from." The scene was described as chaotic: “The building was like it was on fire, everybody just ran out ... the different groups are yelling at each other ... people were jumping in the wrong cars."
Pitts-Bryant said it was close to midnight when her phone rang, "It was one of his friends from here … and said Ms. Bryant ... they said it's BJ." The friend told the family BJ was in the hospital, he was badly injured, and fighting for his life.
Pitts-Bryant tells In Pursuit, although she was more than 1,000 miles away and felt helpless, she called the hospital and was able to speak to a doctor. The physician told her that BJ was on the operating table and they were doing all they could. "I said … is he going to be all right ... I said do you believe in God? He said 'yeah.' I said, I need you to pray," Pitts-Bryant remembers.
As for Ramadan, he didn't think twice. Immediately after the murder, investigators said he fled the state. At the time, he had no prior arrests and no criminal record, and no fingerprints on file.
The U.S. Marshals were convinced Ramdan's family in New Rochelle, New York, was talking to him and assisting him in some way. His father is a prominent and well-respected imam in their community. The Marshals did surveillance on those family members, but didn't come up with any proof.
It took four months after the murder, but David Ifill turned himself in and told investigators about where he took Ramadan after the killing.
POSSIBLE LEAD TO RAMADAN
In 2016, the U.S. Marshals said they received an extremely credible lead. A tipster sent them a photo of someone they thought was Ramadan from a 2007 MySpace account. The tipster believed it was Ramadan getting married two years after the murder. The parents in the picture even resembled Ramadan's mother and father.
The Marshals sent out a national alert, wanting to speak to the woman in the photo. Not long after the alert was issued, the man featured in the wedding pictures came forward. He was wondering why investigators were looking for him — especially because he's not a killer. Although the photo turned out to be the wrong person, it served to bring a lot of national attention to the case.
As for Ramadan's biological family, investigators say they have not been cooperative in the case. Despite the years passed and the fact that Ramadan's family isn't willing to help, Pitts-Bryant is not discouraged: "I don't want to catch him for revenge, but to show my forgiveness. We lost two boys that year. What is your life like if you're always looking behind your back?”
The Hampton Police aren't giving up hope either, Detective Steven Rodney tells In Pursuit, "We are never going to give up looking for Jihad Ramadan ... it don't matter if I retire ... we are never going to give up looking for him."
It is thought that Ramadan could be in the United States or the Caribbean. He has specific ties to Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, California, and Trinidad. Another possibility is that he could be shuffling between mosques in the Muslim community.
"I think he (Jihad) felt like he could do whatever he wanted to do and it was okay. Even murder, and he's been gone all this time, he knows what he did, his parents know what he did. He was 18 years old — where is your child, why aren't you looking for him?" Pitts-Bryant concludes.
TRAITS & CHARACTERISTICS:
- Height: 6 feet 1 inch
- Weight: 175 pounds
- Sex: Male
- Race: Black
- Hair: Black
- Eyes: Brown
- Was born under the name Justin Faustin
- Last seen at a truck stop with his cousin
- Marshals believe he could be using a new alias
- Last known to live in New Rochelle, New York
- Parents originally from New Rochelle
If you know anything about this case or the whereabouts of Jihad Amir Ramadan, please contact our hotline at 833-3-PURSUE or Submit Your Anonymous Tip Online.
For more on this case, watch the “Campus Tragedy” episode of In Pursuit With John Walsh on Wednesday, January 16 at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery! Or catch up on ID GO.