ST. PETERSBURG — Late one night nearly three years ago, two mothers lost their sons in a mysterious double homicide at an auto repair shop.
Cabretti Jalil Wheeler, 21, and Kyle Lynn Ellis, 24, were shot and killed Sept. 6, 2008, inside Dat's Right Audio in unincorporated Pinellas County.
Even though the two men were good friends, their mothers had never met.
Now Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Karen Cobb are as close as sisters.
And earlier this week, the two women got news they never thought they'd hear: After more than two years of chasing down leads, detectives made a break in the case.
On Thursday, a grand jury indicted Jerry Tyrone Jones, 22, of St. Petersburg on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
"I prayed constantly that this person would be found," said Cobb, a 53-year-old corporate recruiter from Riverview. "We were afraid that it was going to become a cold case."
Authorities have been reluctant to release much information about the case because of an ongoing investigation. But on Friday, new details became public in court records.
When Pinellas deputies were called to the auto repair shop at 8191 46th Ave. N about 2 a.m. that night, they found Wheeler and Ellis dead and a third man wounded.
That man lived in an apartment above the business and heard gunshots. When he went downstairs to see what had happened, he was hit in the face by a man with a gun. The gunman then shot him five times.
The wounded man was able to get outside and hide in a retention pond. He watched as a gold Oldsmobile left the scene. Later, he made his way back inside and called 911.
According to court records, a recent tip led authorities to Jones, who was already in the Pinellas County Jail on drug and driving offenses when the murder charges were lodged against him Thursday.
The man who survived the shooting picked Jones' photo out of a lineup. Detectives also learned that Jones owned a gold Oldsmobile at the time of the killings.
Jones, who is being held without bail, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The St. Petersburg Times is not naming the man who survived the shooting because Pinellas sheriff's detectives fear for his safety.
Authorities said they believe more people were involved in the shooting.
"This is not the end of it by any means," said Pinellas Detective Todd Greene, who added that investigators have struggled to get people to come forward about the case. "We're just getting started."
Investigators have not said if a motive for the shooting has been determined.
As the investigation continues, the two mothers say they will lean on each other.
Both women praised Greene for continuing to pursue the investigation. They also said he kept them updated with weekly phone calls.
"This case very rarely left my mind," Greene said. "They were a constant reminder. We developed a great relationship."
Since the killings, Wheeler-Brown, 42, also has thrown herself into the community. She created a foundation in her son's name that helps murder victims' survivors. She has organized marches against crime and fundraisers for victims' families. She also spoke out against violence after the killings of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton and three St. Petersburg police officers.
Cobb, a former police officer, has grieved more privately, but has supported Wheeler-Brown's events from behind the scenes.
"We began to talk and began to build a relationship and a bond," Cobb said. "It's been an emotional roller coaster."
Both women say their sons were their best friends.
Ellis, a musician, was Cobb's only child but had a large, extended family that included six stepbrothers and stepsisters spread across the country. He also had a fiancee and daughter, who will turn 5 in May.
Wheeler was the oldest of two boys. He worked at a pool supply business and had a son and a daughter.
"Even though I miss him so much, I'm so glad that somebody can be held accountable for what they took away from me," Wheeler-Brown said. "We as mothers, as parents, we can't give up."
On Thursday, after getting the news about the indictment, the two women exchanged phone messages and made plans to meet up this weekend.
"Our sons died together at the hands of the same people. That bond will always be there because of the tragedy," Cobb said. "I can't wait to hug her. I can't wait to put my arms around her."