Romulus —A Detroit teen was arraigned via video on Thursday on charges he beat, burned and killed a 91-year-old neighbor in his home on Detroit’s west side this week.
George Stewart, 17, faced charges of first-degree murder, felony murder and arson in 34th District Court in Romulus. He faces a Dec. 3 probable cause hearing and a preliminary hearing on Dec. 10
“The alleged facts in this case are that the defendant killed his elderly neighbor by beating him and attempting to burn the evidence,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement Wednesday evening. “The word heinous does not even begin to describe this crime.”
Family members helped the teen turn himself in to police Tuesday, according to Stewart’s grandfather.
The high school sophomore is suspected in the beating and burning death of his grandfather’s 91-year-old neighbor, Paul Monchnik, who was found dead Monday at his home on the 20500 block of Bentler.
“Family members went with him to turn himself in,” George Stewart Jr. said Wednesday. “I can’t believe any of this is happening, that he’d be involved. I pray that he’s not involved.”
Stewart said police told him they were looking for his grandson during a search Tuesday at his house next door to Monchnik’s home.
“I told (police) that we would find him and bring him in,” Stewart said.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig announced the arrest and search Tuesday.
“I’m not certain what motivated this suspect, and he is only a suspect,” Craig said. “We still have a lot of work going forward.”
Monchnik’s body was discovered when police and fire personnel responded to a fire at the home about 2:50 a.m. Monday.
The cause of death from the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office was still pending toxicology reports, but an officer at the scene reported that Monchnik had what appeared to be a bullet wound to his head.
His body was found near the front door; he had been doused with gasoline and set on fire.
“The victim was discovered with severe burns all over his body and a head injury,” the prosecutor’s office said. “It is alleged that Stewart fatally assaulted Monchnik, and set his house on fire.”
George Stewart Jr. said he and Monchnik became neighbors five years ago.
The teen had been staying with his grandfather for four or five days when the killing occurred.
“His mother was in the process of moving and he wanted to be able to continue going to school and playing sports,” he said. “I was just asked to look after him.”
The teen did not know Monchnik, George Stewart Jr. said.
“To my knowledge, he’s never had a lot of interaction with (Monchnik) because he lived in the suburbs most of his life. He’s an athlete: played basketball, soccer.”
But a 10-year-old grandson was particularly close to the victim, he said.
“He was crying. I said ‘Why are you crying?’ He said it’s because his friend next door, the ‘old man,’ was dead.
“He was an elderly guy, we looked out for him,” he said. “There’d be times when other people tried to take advantage of him or we’d see suspicious people around and we’d call the police.”
George Stewart Jr. said the family remains in shock over the grandson being detained as a suspect, and they are grieving the loss of their neighbor.
“This whole thing has been a nightmare, especially for Mr. Monchnik’s family,” he said. “This is a tragedy in every kind of way. I want everyone to know that we’re praying for his family. I don’t think my grandson did this, but by the same token, we believe anybody who committed this kind of crime should be punished.”
Those with information in the case are asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) SPEAK-UP or Detroit Police Homicide at (313) 596-2260.
News Staff Writers George Hunter and Candice Williams contributed