July 26, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Slain Armada teen remembered for her love of God, friends

Armada— Shortly before 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the mourners came. They took up their candles and combined their voices in prayer, asking God to take care of the sweet, sunny-smiled teen who went for a walk with her dog on a local trail this week and never made it home.

April Millsap, 14, was found in a drainage ditch about 20 feet from the Macomb Orchard Trail on Thursday evening. Her border collie led joggers to her body.

It’s the first homicide in seven years for the village of 1,730 and it has shocked the community to the core.

“This is something we cannot fathom,” Joe Sturza, April’s youth minister told a crowd of about 300 gathered outside St. Mary’s Mystical Rose church to remember the teen.

“She was really happy and peppy all the time. She always had a smile on her face,” said friend Katie Grabowski. “She made friends with really everyone she talked to.”

Sturza described a girl who had found her faith and become an important participant in her church.

“When April came to me with Jennifer dragging her into our gathering, I knew there would be a challenge,” he said. “But I can honestly say in these three years our mission of bringing teens closer to Christ happened.”

According to police, April left her house to walk the dog on the trail between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. Thursday. When she didn’t return home, her family contacted police.

An autopsy conducted by the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s office determined the cause of death to be homicide. Police did not release any new information in the investigation Saturday.

April had just finished eighth grade at Armada Middle School and was heading to high school this fall. Her friends brought flowers to give to her mother Jennifer Millsap. They described a girl who loved animals, loved God and made friends with everyone she met.

Authorities have released a photo of a dented gray van that was occupied by two men. Its role in April’s death, if any, hasn’t been determined.

Even for community members that had only briefly known her, April’s death has been difficult to come to terms with.

“What a terrible thing,” said Tony Berdych, the music director at St. Mary’s. “My heart just broke for this girl and I didn’t even know her that well.”

Madison Adams took the podium to share her favorite memories of the girl she had been best friends with since sixth grade. One of those memories was being invited to April’s birthday on a snowy winter day.

“We sat around all day because we got snowed in,” she said, in tears. “It was one of the best days of my life.”

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Jennifer Millsap, center, is surrounded by family and friends, wipes away a tear during the prayer vigil for her slain daughter April on Saturday evening at St. Mary Mystical Rose Catholic Church in Armada. / Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News
Mourners gather at St. Mary Mystical Rose Catholic Church for a ... (Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)
April Millsap (Facebook)