Home Local News Rockingham officer recounts relationship with teen shooting victim

Rockingham officer recounts relationship with teen shooting victim

Lt. Ronnie Brigman of the Rockingham Police Department poses with Tyrhonda Ratliff during a visit two nights after her son's homicide. Brigman and Julius Leak had developed a relationship over the past several years.
Contributed photo

ROCKINGHAM — One local police officer says he felt like he lost time when he learned the identity of a recent homicide victim.

Lt. Ronnie Brigman of the Rockingham Police Department was on duty Saturday night when officers and deputies from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the hospital in reference to a gunshot victim.

When Brigman first walked in, he didn’t know who it was — but when he heard the name, he recognized it: 18-year-old Julius Tyrone Leak Jr.

Several years ago, Brigman mainly worked on cases involving juveniles.

One Monday in 2017, Brigman came to work and saw where a mother had filed a report of a runaway child.

Per his routine, Brigman said he first checked the school that the child attended — and there was Julius, sitting in his classroom at Rockingham Middle School.

“I normally try to develop a rapport with the kids,” Brigman said.

The two found a common interest in football, as Julius was a wide receiver for the school’s team.

“Me and Julius hit it off from the start from the first time I talked to him,” Brigman recalled. “It was like an instantaneous thing.”

Brigman worked several calls involving Julius, though he added they were “never anything criminal,” mostly just the teen leaving home. 

“I would go find him,” Brigman said.

Eventually, Brigman said he gave Julius his phone number and told him, “If you ever feel like you’re about to leave home again, call me first.”

And Julius would — for a while.

As the teen got older, Brigman said the calls and texts slowed down, but Julius would occasionally drop by the station.

“I was lucky enough to keep in contact with him over a four-year span,” Brigman said.

Flash-forward to Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022: Julius was shot in a gravel parking lot on Church Street in East Rockingham, according to the sheriff’s office.

“It feels like I’ve been getting punched in the stomach for the past three days and it ain’t stopped,” Brigman said Tuesday night.

On Sunday, Brigman posted the following to his personal Facebook page:

“As law enforcement officers, we all develop relationships with individuals at different times in our careers but, there is always a relationship that stands out from the rest. With that said, I was lucky enough to develop a relationship with a kid several years ago and maintained that relationship with him all the way until he reached ‘adulthood.’ If he needed advice or wanted to tell me about something important going on in his life like, when he became a father or when he got his first good job making good money he would always find a way to make contact with me to let me know. I always looked forward to hearing from him and I hope he knew those conversations meant as much to me as they did to him. I will miss those conversations and that BIG smile followed by ‘Detective Brigman, what’s up man?’ But I will always be thankful that we crossed paths and became friends!”

RIP Julius Leak, I sure will miss you!

That post was made after the sheriff’s office charged 23-year-old Thomas Owen White with an open count of murder in Julius’ death.

Since then, investigators have charged three others in connection to the case: 54-year-old Tina Louise Tilley and an unnamed juvenile are charged with altering, destroying or stealing evidence of criminal conduct; and another unnamed juvenile is charged with accessory after the fact of murder for allegedly helping White evade capture.


Brigman told the RO that he can’t imagine what Julius’ family is going through “if he’s that kind of impact on me.”

Over the years, Brigman said he got to know Julius’ mother and grandmother and he stopped by Monday night to “let them know how sorry I was for what had happened.”

Julius’ mother, Tyrhonda Ratliff posted photos of herself with Brigman on her Facebook page.

“This man stopped by tonight, not as a police officer but a friend,” Ratliff said in the post. He (made) me laugh and cry tonight as he shared stories of the encounters with my son. He assured me that he prayed with him in the last moments of his life.”

Ratliff said that Brigman “has definitely gone beyond the call of duty” with her son since 2017. She added that she confessed to the officer that she felt he often took her son’s side more, but Brigman reassured her that “Julius was special and needed extra love and support.”

“I want everyone to know there’s still good people wearing blue uniforms … This man really blessed me tonight.”

Brigman said Julius also had an impact on several teachers as well.

“Anybody he came into contact with I’m sure feels like this because that’s just the type of personality he had.”


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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.