Stunned loved ones mourn slain WMU cheerleader

Tony Paul, George Hunter, and Mark Hicks

During a “Welcome Week” celebration for incoming freshmen at Western Michigan University’s Waldo Stadium this past Labor Day weekend, Damond Carpenter walked right up to the school’s cheerleading booth.

Damond Carpenter, an 18-year-old freshman on Western Michigan's cheerleading team, was killed in a drive-by shooting on Detroit's east side on Dec. 22.

He had no experience with the sport, but he was an athletic young man —a football player in high school — and wanted a team to join during his time in Kalamazoo. Within a week, he had a tryout, performed some backflips and “we had to have him,” coach Chris Wang said.

Carpenter, 18, a Detroit native, was killed in a Friday drive-by shooting on the city’s east side.

Western Michigan confirmed the news Wednesday.

“He’d only been on the team since September, but he was definitely a special person, a special teammate,” Wang told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “The impact he had on everybody was remarkable, especially being so new to the squad.

“He was always so energetic, so positive, always smiling.”

The memory of his magnetism drew about 20 relatives, friends and supporters for a candlelight vigil near the shooting scene Wednesday evening.

Fighting single-digit temperatures, the teary-eyed crowd solemnly shared a prayer then released more than a dozen light blue and white balloons — Carpenter’s favorite colors — into the night sky.

Many were unable to grasp their loss.

“He was always the happiest person I know,” said DeShawnae Moore, 17, a cousin. “It’s just horrible this is the way he had to die.”

Rhonda Mainor, his aunt, whose son lived with Carpenter and attended WMU, shook her head in disbelief at the tragedy.

“He was just starting his life,” she said. “My nephew was a great kid. He made everyone laugh. He was a happy kid. He loved everybody.”

The family has set up a GoFundMe page, where more than $2,400 has been raised toward the initial goal of $10,000.

“He was a good young man in college with a heart that could change everyone and everything,” Carpenter’s sister, Tyera, wrote on the GoFundMe page.

“My brother will always remain in my prayers, and I hope he’s in yours as well.”

Carpenter was set to celebrate his 19th birthday on New Year’s Day. He was a graduate of Madison High School in Madison Heights, where he played defensive back and wide receiver for the football team.

Besides athletics, the teen had also been involved in robotics and “loved his school books,” said his mother, Melinda Carpenter. “He wasn’t your average 18-year-old kid.”

Carpenter, who had four siblings, was studying mechanical engineering at Western Michigan, his mother said.

Not many men cheer in high school in Michigan, Wang said, so the college squads always are seeking men early in the fall. Usually, they’re recruited by friends or friends of friends, but Carpenter sought out the team on his own.

He cheered for football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard said.

Although he had no experience in cheerleading, Damond Carpenter, 18, was athletic and wanted to be involved with a team during his time attending Western Michigan University,  school officials said.

Wang said Carpenter always wanted to tumble, and was quickly learning the squad’s lifts and stunts.

Wang learned of the shooting last Friday. Scrolling through his phone, he saw Carpenter’s name tagged on a local news report shared on social media.

“I was in shock at first, I didn’t believe it — that it happened at all, but that it happened to such a great person,” Wang said. “Going through his Facebook and seeing all the words and kind things everybody was saying about him, it’s hitting home a little more.

“The shock went away, and it was more of, why did this happen to someone so young and so full of energy?”

Carpenter was home from school on holiday break when the shooting happened around 6 p.m. last Friday in the 10400 block of Cadieux. He was driving his car, a Buick Century, when shots started coming from another car, a Chrysler 300.

Relatives say he had been heading out Christmas shopping with a close friend.

Carpenter was pronounced dead at the scene by medics, Detroit police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said. A 27-year-old man also was struck in the hand, and a 19-year-old man was shot several times, Kirkwood said. The 27-year-old and 19-year-old were taken to a nearby hospital, and were listed in temporary serious condition.

Capt. Darren Szilagy, the police department’s night chief duty officer, said it doesn’t appear the shooting was aimed at Carpenter.

“I don’t think he was the intended target. The shooter was targeting people inside the building, and from what it looked like, (Carpenter) was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Szilagy said.

“It was a complex crime scene. (Carpenter) was behind the building in his car when the shooting started,” the captain said. “He drove out, most likely trying to get out of danger, and was at a stop sign on Cadieux when he got shot. He then accelerated and hit the building, but he was probably dead before that.”

Kirkwood said no motive for the shooting has been established, and that the incident remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the Detroit Police Homicide Section at (313) 596-2260; or Crime Stoppers of Michigan at (800) SPEAK-UP (773-2587).

For now, Carpenter’s family is begging the public to step forward with tips.

“I want justice for my baby,” his mother said. “He didn’t deserve this at all.”

Christine Ferretti contributed to this report.