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Detroit 3-year-old found safe; suspect arrested

James David Dickson, and Holly Fournier

Detroit — A 3-year-old Detroit boy was found safe and his alleged kidnapper was arrested Thursday afternoon, hours after the abduction from a west side home, according to Detroit police.

“He’s in good condition, he’s healthy,” Officer Jennifer Moreno said of the boy, Marvie Gardner

Yolanda Burnett Johnson, right, the grandmother of Marvie Gardner, celebrates with Katherine Bruce, Marvie's great-aunt), after hearing the news that the 3-year-old was found safe Thursday afternoon.

Marvie was recovered around 1:45 p.m. inside a vehicle parked in front of an abandoned house on the 19000 block of Biltmore, nearly four miles east of where he allegedly was snatched by Michael Lee Grayson, 19, from a home on the 19300 block of Winston, near Telegraph and Grand River. Police responded to a report that a male was taking a small child into an abandoned house on Biltmore.

Just before 2 p.m., WXYZ reporter Kim Craig informed members of the family that the boy had been found safe.

“Hallelujah!” one family member said.

“Give him the glory!” another said.

“You can breathe now,” another said, that remark directed to the boy’s grandmother, Yolanda Burnett-Johnson.

Burnett-Johnson had been at the home all morning, sometimes angry, sometimes tearful. By the time Craig relayed the good news about her grandson, Burnett-Johnson had a black shirt that said “God bless me” over the shirt she’d been wearing.

Burnett hugged Deputy Police Chief Charles Fitzgerald and other Detroit police officials who’d been working tips all day. She thanked the media for getting the word out. And she thanked the people of Detroit for calling in tips.

She stopped short of thanking the suspect for leaving the “innocent, helpless” boy unhurt.

“I’m mad at you right now, but I’m glad you returned my baby unharmed,” she said.

It was not immediately clear what led police to the location where Marvie was found, Moreno said.

Grayson was taken into custody by Detroit Transit police officers Raymond Carr and David Weise around 2:15 p.m. in the area of Seven Mile and Ryan, on the city’s east side and several miles from where the boy was found. Transit police had responded to a report that the kidnapping suspect had boarded a bus; transit police then contacted the Detroit Department of Transportation, which located the bus. Grayson was arrested without incident.

After his arrest, Grayson told police “he left something on the bus,” according to a city release. Transit police Sgt. Derrick Russ and Lt. William Hart tracked down the bus and recovered the suspect’s coat with a butcher knife wanted by the 8th Precinct detectives in the incident, the release said.

“I commend Officers Carr and Weise, Sgt. Russ and Lt. Hart for their rapid response which enabled them to quickly apprehend the suspect without incident,” stated Transit Police Chief Sidney Bogan. “I also thank the citizens who provided vital information about observing the suspect which ultimately led to his capture.”

Marvie Gardner
Michael Lee Grayson

The suspect initially was believed to be traveling with the boy in a stolen van that was later recovered on the 19000 block of Riverview, a half-mile from the abduction site.

The boy was reported missing as adults in the home started to wake up around 5:30 a.m. Thursday and discovered that Marvie — one of the six children police say had spent the night — was missing.

Grayson, who is not the boy’s father, also spent the night at the home but was gone Thursday morning.

Trouble started Wednesday night when the mother of Grayson’s baby walked off with their child, Fitzgerald said. Police were in contact with that woman Thursday, though Fitzgerald declined to say what happened with the child.

Grayson became angered when his child was taken and at one point brandished a knife, but others in the house were able to calm him down, Fitzgerald said.

Latoya Spears, mother of Marvie Gardner, earlier Thursday said her son was last seen in a downstairs room with Grayson. Surrounded by family and friends, she urged the boy’s safe return.

“I don’t know what’s going on or what y’alls situation is,” Spears said, referring to the drama between Grayson and his baby’s mother. “But you’re taking away my baby in the midst of it, and he’s only 3. He’s innocent.”

Spears said Grayson left behind a disturbing note: “Get my baby. Will contact. Done playing. Let’s play.”

Just before 1 p.m., EMS workers arrived at the home and transported Spears to an area hospital.

Grayson is a probationer out of Macomb County, Fitzgerald said, but added that his criminal history is “nothing we want to report at this point.”

The van allegedly used in the abduction — a 1999 purple Plymouth Voyager — belongs to Dwayne Ecklund, 56, who lives down the street and noticed the vehicle missing about 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

Ecklund was happy to hear that his van had been found, but said “that can be replaced — a baby can’t. We’re sure glad they found him.”

jdickson@detroitnews.com