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Michigan mother hoping for Christmas miracle in her fight for justice in 2014 death of son Brandon Mitchner

The family of 22-year-old Brandon Mitchener is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) involved in his death.

It was a motto Brandon Mitchner lived by – Make It Your Mission (M.I.Y.M). Make it your mission to do the right thing. Make it your mission to make something out of your life. Make it your mission to be kind.

And the four words were the perfect moniker for his new business, a venture the 22-year-old Lansing Community College student had always wanted to accomplish.

Brandon Mitchner

“He always wanted to own a business,” his mother Shirley Mitchner told Dateline. “He worked hard for it. He wanted the business to become very big, where his merchandise would be sold all over the world.”

But Brandon would never get to see his business take off. In June 2014, after a night out with friends, his body was pulled from the Grand River in Lansing, Michigan.

Brandon’s death was ultimately ruled an accidental drowning by authorities, but his family and friends say some things don’t add up, leaving them with many unanswered questions.

In 2020, Brandon’s mother relaunched her son’s urban fashion line, keeping the name “Make It Your Mission.”

“He was a giving person, he made it his mission to help others,” she said. “Now, it’s become my mission to carry on his words. So I say to those who know what happened to my son, to those who have information, make it your mission to do the right thing.”

Now, nearly eight years after Brandon’s death, his mother has upped the reward to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in her son’s death. She is hoping for a Christmas miracle.

“Brandon died during the summer and that time is always hard,” Shirley said. “But the holidays are just devastating. I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore.”

Shirley told Dateline that she vividly remembers the last time she saw her son. They were at the kitchen table at their home in Lansing, Michigan, celebrating Brandon’s father’s birthday.

“June 28, 2014 was the saddest day of my life,” Shirley said. “That would be the last day he gave me a kiss, he hugged me and he told me he loved me.”

Brandon told his parents he was going out that night to celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday on a party bus.

“He was very excited, but I started preaching like I usually do, telling Brandon to please be careful,” Shirley said with a small laugh. “Then he cupped my face with his hands and told me, ‘Mom I got this, you trained me right.’ Those words will always stick with me.”

Brandon’s parents were leaving the next morning to travel to Florida to celebrate their wedding anniversary. But late that night, Shirley says she woke up, looked at her phone and wondered why Brandon hadn’t called.

“I remembered he was out for the night, but he’d always call to check in,” she said. “It just worried me.”

The next day, when Brandon’s parents arrived at their resort, they got a call from their oldest daughter with worrisome news. Brandon hadn’t returned home.

According to police reports, after the party bus made several stops at local bars in downtown Lansing, Brandon was intoxicated and told his friends he felt sick. When he got off the bus, his friend, who was also his business partner, followed him.

Security footage from a nearby house shows Brandon ahead of his business partner, stumbling down the sidewalk along South Street in the early morning hours of June 29.

According to the state police report, it’s believed Brandon meandered about 30 feet down the dead end of South Street, stumbled off a steep embankment where there was no guardrail, and plunged into the river and drowned.

Brandon’s business partner later told police that he had lost sight of Brandon during the walk and said he had thought he had found a way home.

Hours later, when Brandon’s friends and siblings realized he hadn’t come home, they searched the area where he was last seen. Brandon’s sister located his hat and one shoe. Police were called and divers were called in.

Brandon’s parents, who left the resort later that same day, returned to Lansing where they got the news they feared the most. Brandon’s body had been pulled from the river.

Theories about Brandon’s death swirled in Lansing. Some say he was thrown in the river by people he was with because they wanted to see if he could swim. Others say there was a fight and he was pushed in. And some, including the authorities, believe it was simply an accident.

Shirley told Dateline that even if it was an accident, her son’s death could have been avoided if his friends had stayed with him that night, if the person last seen with him had called 911 once he realized Brandon was gone.

“I only wish I knew what exactly happened,” she said. “I go to that river often and talk to Brandon. And I just pray that he’ll tell me what happened that night.”

Jeremy Lyon, one of Brandon’s best friends, believes if Brandon was with true friends that night, the outcome would have been much different.

“I would have never left his side,” Jeremy told Dateline. “It doesn’t matter if he was blacked out drunk, I would have made sure he got home safe. And if he ‘fell,’ I would have done everything in my power to save him. I would have at least made a call for help.”

Jeremy and Brandon

Jeremy and Brandon had known each other since they were sophomores in high school and then attended Lansing Community College together.

“We were family,” he said. “He was more than my friend. He was my brother. His death was a tragedy that could have been avoided. With one phone call.”

Jeremy explained to Dateline that he wasn’t out the night Brandon died, and the people on the party bus were new friends.

Captain Christopher Baldwin with the Lansing Police Department told Dateline that Brandon’s case has been investigated numerous times over the years and was reviewed by the Michigan State Police, which determined Brandon’s friend and business partner from that night had been “open and honest” with cops and showed no signs that he was lying or trying to hide information.

“I do not find where anyone is criminally liable for his death nor do I see any potential for criminal charges related to this case,” MSP Lt. Erik Darling said in June 2021, according to the Lansing City Pulse, after he was asked to review the case. “I do not recommend reopening LPD's investigation or keeping it open. If any new information surfaces, it can still be followed up on and documented even if the investigation is closed.”

Captain Baldwin reiterated the state police’s statement on the case.

“If we get new information that raises his case to the level of criminality, we’re going to investigate,” he said. “I’ll take it straight to the prosecutor.”

Brandon’s mother Shirley told Dateline she has passed on information received from witnesses to the police, but nothing has come of it. She is hoping those who do have information will go directly to the police.

“I’m tired, frustrated, but I can’t give up, not with God’s strength to keep me going,” she said. “I’m not done yet.”

Shirley has also lobbied for legislation to enact a “duty to act” in Michigan, which would create criminal consequences for silent observers who fail to help others in danger.

“I just think of how Brandon would react if the situation was reversed,” Shirley said. “How can someone leave another person alone in a dangerous situation? Brandon would have done everything he could to help that person.”

Shirley told Dateline that Brandon was the glue that held their family together. He was the one who was always positive and stood up for others. He was also the life of the party and loved to make people laugh.

“Brandon had the most contagious, beautiful smile that would make you smile,” she added. “He loved to dance, and his friends loved to watch him. He was funny, nice and kind.”

Brandon graduated from LCC in 2014 with an associate degree. He had plans to further his education and get a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

In 2021, Shirley created a scholarship to honor her son and his legacy. The scholarship will be available to anyone in general studies and will be worth $700. Each year it will be increased by $100 until it reaches a total of $3,000.

“I decided to do a scholarship to honor my son Brandon,” she said. “To let people know about a good young man with a heart of gold who only wanted to see good in the world.”

Along with Brandon’s ambition for higher education, he worked hard at creating his own business. In 2020, Shirley was able to take over the business and relaunched his urban clothing line with the same name: Make It Your Mission (M.I.Y.M).

“I use his words in every aspect of my life, but especially in my fight for justice for Brandon,” she said. “And I'm hoping others do the same.”

This is Shirley’s eighth Christmas without her son, and says the greatest gift would be justice.

“There is no such thing as closure,” Shirley said. “So we’ll fight for justice. And peace. And a Christmas miracle. Maybe if that happens, I’ll even celebrate again.”

Anyone with information about Brandon’s death is asked call Captain Christopher Baldwin with the Lansing Police Department (517) 483-6846.