Detroit slaying victims ‘very loved’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — As soon as Brandan Allen learned that three of his fellow churchgoers had been slain outside a gas station Monday, he raced from work to comfort the families.

The next day, the 29-year-old returned to the scene at nightfall, joined by more than 100 others for a candlelight vigil to honor the lives lost.

Allen could hardly imagine the violence that claimed a deacon, his daughter and another parishioner, or the empty spots in the pews during Sunday services at the city’s Citadel of Praise in the city. But just as parishioners do in their daily lives, he planned to rely on faith.

“We know everything happens for a reason,” Allen said. “We’re not going to understand the why. ... We know God is always going to bring us through.”

He and dozens of others gathered Tuesday outside the Sunoco station on Fenkell to remember the victims, whom the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office identified as Ja-Mon Thomas, 22; Raphael Hall, 60; Cierra Bargaineer, 24; and Kristin Thomas, 21.

But it also was aimed at acknowledging life’s fragility.

“It’s times like these that remind us that tomorrow is not guaranteed,” said Pastor Spencer Ellis, who leads Citadel of Praise. “So we have to love each other and come together.”

The gathering comes as police investigate what led George Anthony Davis, 27, to target the four — including Bargaineer, the mother of his infant, and Ja-Mon Thomas, a cousin — before carjacking a motorist, leading authorities on a chase, then fatally shooting himself in Ohio.

Detroit police Chief James Craig said his team was investigating whether Davis, who shot his cousin at a relative’s home on Faust, suffered from mental illness.

Michigan Department of Corrections records show that Davis had 2008 convictions for second-degree home invasion and carrying a concealed weapon, as well as a conviction for receiving and concealing a stolen car. He was paroled in 2016.

Ellis and others from Citadel of Praise did not recall seeing Davis attending the west-side church, where Hall was a deacon and his daughter also frequented.

They wonder why he opened fire as Hall pumped gas with Bargaineer and Thomas.

“I didn’t know the young man, but apparently he was ... dealing with some evil in his heart,” Ellis said, adding the incident shows how others should watch out for signs of trouble among loved ones. “We need to be close enough to individuals to realize that there’s a behavior change. We need to become more connected with each other.”

As he and dozens of others clustered together in the darkness outside the gas station, they strived to uplift each other with worship songs, raised hands and prayers for peace.

“We release love in the name of Jesus,” Darren Penson, a pastor at another church who has worked with Crime Stoppers of Michigan, told the crowd.

While some relatives wept and embraced, others hoisted photos of the victims before releasing white, gold, pink and red balloons into the night sky.

The support comforted Rene Williams-Pridgeon, sister of Hall and Bargaineer’s aunt.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” she said, adding that the turnout reflected the connections honed over the years at their church in the community. “They were beautiful people — very loved.”

Among the crowd was Chanel DeLoach, who attended with her 9-year-old twin daughters. She never forgot how Hall welcomed her as a new Citadel of Praise member, greeted others as an usher and smiled during services.

DeLoach hoped the outpouring of grief would somehow spark change. “There’s so much violence between people,” she said. “We need to come together. This is the first step.”