July 25, 2014 at 11:42 pm

'Everybody that knew her loved her' grandmother says of teen slain in Armada

Armada homicide press conference
Armada homicide press conference: Police chief Howard Smith releases victims identity

Armada — Every summer, the biggest news in this tiny village is the country fair in August.

That quaint custom will be overshadowed this year by a visitation of evil Thursday.

The murder of a 14-year-old girl, the village’s first homicide in seven years, stunned the community of 1,730.

“This is especially shocking,” said resident Mark Goerlich.

Even police officers were shaking their heads over the death of April Dawn Millsap, who took her dog for a walk in a wooded area and never returned home.

Armada Police Chief Howard Smith said local, state and federal law enforcement agencies worked through Thursday night into Friday to solve the mystery.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” he said.

The body was discovered near a recreation trail when April’s dog repeatedly confronted two joggers along the trail before running back to the body.

The joggers finally followed the border collie, discovering the body in a drainage ditch about 20 feet from the Macomb Orchard Trail, said Lt. Michael Shaw, a spokesman for the Michigan State Police.

The cause of death wasn’t disclosed. There were no apparent signs of trauma or sexual assault, said Smith.

Every summer April would stay with her father in Indiana and then travel to visit family in Virginia, where she was born, grandmother Linda Millsap said Friday evening.

She didn’t make the visit this summer.

“She was a very sweet, wonderful child,” Linda Millsap said from her home in Virginia. “She was good in school. Very smart. She loved to write poetry.”

April wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up, her grandmother said.

“She was very good to the dog she had with her,” she said.

“A lot of people are going to be missing her,” her grandmother said. “Everybody that knew her loved her. We just can’t get over the shock of it. It doesn’t seem real.”

Investigators were looking for a dented gray van that was occupied by two males. Its role in the death, if any, hasn’t been determined.

About 30 investigators worked the crime scene Friday and police were receiving tips from police departments in southeast Michigan, said Smith. The area comprises stately homes and bounding fields of crops. “It’s a fantastic collaboration, which helps us move through,” he said.

April left her home to walk the family dog between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, said Smith. When she hadn’t returned after an hour and a half, her parents went to search for her along Macomb Orchard Trail.

“When they can’t find her, they came to the police department because they see all of the police cars,” said Shaw.

More than a dozen people gathered behind the media scrum outside the police station. Before an afternoon press conference, one woman came up to reporters in tears to say: “Here in Armada we love our children. When you go home, hug your children.”

A prayer service will be held at 6:30 p.m. today at St. Mary Mystical Rose Church.

April completed eighth grade at Armada Middle School and was going to be a high school freshman this fall, said Armada Area Schools Superintendent Michael Musary. “We’re very, very saddened and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Millsap family,” Musary said.

The district will have grief counselors available from 9 a.m. to noon today at Armada Middle School for students who need counseling or want to sign a card for the Millsap family, Musary said.

Relatives and acquaintances of April spent hours at the Armada police station speaking with investigators and awaiting news.

Authorities remained on the scene Friday. By late morning, authorities used a bloodhound to search for evidence in neighboring Richmond.

Investigators say they searched both sides of Omo north of 34 Mile to a residential driveway in the 73300 block of Omo Road for evidence.

Several members of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office fanned out near the driveway. Investigators, who wore yellow vests, looked for signs of “scraping” in nearby ditches.

Earlier, the bloodhound tracked a human scent to the area and found a cellphone 200 yards into the property.

Twenty-five members of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, a combination of uniformed deputies and reserves, walked through brush in the one-mile stretch of the Macomb Orchard Trail from Omo Road to Fulton.

Bikers Goerlich and Kosta Baltzoglou, who rode a portion of the 23½-mile trail, found it was blocked by a squad car on their way back Friday. “We came through earlier and it was cleared out,” Goerlich said.

Baltzoglou added: “When we saw the helicopter, we knew it was serious.”

Later in the day, bikers were allowed back on the trail, but a law enforcement presence remained as deputies rode ATVs through a portion east of Omo.

The trail was named National Trail of the Month for July by nonprofit Rail-to-Trail Conservancy, which described the trail as a “scene, seemingly from a dream.”

Police ask people with information to call (877) 616-4677 or go to www.michigan.gov/michtip.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.

Members of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department and Michigan State ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Police are looking for a gray van that was seen in the area of the crime ... (Michigan State Police)
Police light the scene on the Macomb Orchard Trail as they conduct their ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Bikers ride on the Macomb Orchard Trail near where a body of a female was ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Members of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department and Michigan State ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)