Michele Cuti admits she wasn’t exactly the best role model for her younger brother after their mother died.
“I was acting out a lot more than Charlie,” she said.
Her father, Charles, and eventually her stepmother, Tara, had to focus their attention on corralling the wild teenager.
“We were both just hurt, lost little kids,” Michele said.
Their mother, Christine Cuti, lost a battle with cancer when Charlie was 11 and Michele was just shy of 13.
But time was on her side and Michele said she continues to work hard on becoming a productive member of society as well as a good mother to her son.
Charlie, however, ran out of time.
The 23-year-old Nunica man was gunned down late Saturday night outside a party store, Sam’s Drink All, at 1500 S. Getty St. in Muskegon.
Muskegon police said Charlie was with his uncle and cousin when they pulled into the parking lot of the liquor store shortly before 11 p.m. Charlie got out of their vehicle and went to another car to talk to the occupants a couple of times before being shot. He died that night.
Muskegon police investigating the fatal shooting have arrested one suspect, but still seek a person of interest.
On Monday, police announced they're looking for 20-year-old Jaylan Deshawn Traviss of Muskegon Heights. Silent Observer is offering a reward for information that helps investigators find him.
Police describe Traviss as a light-complected black man; 5 foot, 10 inches in height; 160 pounds; with black hair and brown eyes.
At about 2:30 p.m. Monday, police arrested Corey Nathaniel Burt Jr. on several outstanding warrants, and they're requesting open murder and robbery charges against him in Cuti's death. Burt, 22, was arrested in the 700 block of East Isabella Avenue.
Michele said despite their mother’s illness, she and her brother had a “really great, rich, loving childhood. But there was also that aspect of hospitals and surgeries,” she said.
Throughout all of that, Michele said she and Charlie became extremely close to their half siblings from their mother’s first marriage, Kathy and Josh.
A couple of years after their mother died, Charlie — who was starting to get into trouble at age 14 — went to live with Kathy in North Carolina for a while. That was hard on the young teen, his sister said, so two years later he returned to Grand Haven.
Michele gave birth to her son when she was 18.
“My life was changing and Charlie came to stay with us for a while,” she said. “He was right there picking up the slack. He helped me a lot.”
Charlie’s relationship with his father and stepmother remained rocky, so he often turned to his sister for help.
“I helped him get jobs. I gave him rides,” Michele said.
After her own divorce three years ago, Charlie and his girlfriend moved in with Michele.
A year and a half ago, Charlie’s daughter was born and he tried hard to turn his life around, Michele said.
“He was working hard. He was trying to step up and provide,” she said.
But then Charlie was injured at work and lost his job for not showing up, Michele said. He got behind on his rent and problems escalated with his girlfriend, who eventually moved out with their child. Michele said Charlie was also on the outs with his dad.
“He was very lonely,” she said. “He became emotionally disabled.”
Michele said her brother started associating with people he never would have in the past.
“The things that Charlie has dealt with in the last month and a half are decisions he would never have made,” she said.
Michele says she now wishes that she had more of a chance to reach out to help him.
“He had so much potential,” she said. “He had the moral values to make the change. He just didn’t get the time.”
Michele said that Charlie saw the changes she was making and he wanted to do the same.
“I know for a lot of people it takes time, especially if your heart is a mess,” she said.
Michele said the family was waiting to talk to police before making funeral arrangements.
“We hope to have a funeral this week,” she said Monday.
Family and friends described Charlie as a funny, sweet guy who loved to hang out with his younger half brothers and his nephew. He attended Grand Haven High School, but did not graduate, his sister said. He eventually obtained his GED.
The Muskegon Police Department is continuing the investigation and ask anyone with information to call them at 231-724-6750, or Silent Observer at 231-722-7463.
WZZM-TV contributed to this report.