'Heartbroken': Detroit council staffer dead in apparent murder-suicide mourned
Detroit — City Hall is mourning the loss of a beloved policy staffer with a promising future who was killed on Sunday.
DeAndree Watson, a 30-year-old University of Michigan graduate, was found in his vehicle by Westland police at the Willow Creek Apartments on Fairwood just off Ford Road. Officers had responded to investigate an OnStar panic button notification, authorities said in a news release. Police said Watson was the apparent victim of a homicide.
The investigation led police to a nearby apartment where they discovered a second person, Deontez Jones of Westland, who was dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The incident remains under investigation, but police note the pair were known associates and the deaths appear to be connected.
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones said Monday the entire council family is "heartbroken" over the loss.
Watson, who was headed to the University of Michigan Law School this fall, she said, was a "legislative genius with a bright future ahead of him."
The Detroiter spent eight years working for the office of Detroit Council member James Tate as a policy analyst, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Jones, in a statement on Facebook, said Watson stood out for his activism and deep connection with city communities. He also helped oversee the drafting and implementation of the city's medical and recreational marijuana ordinances and management of the council's Planning and Economic Development subcommittee, Jones noted.
"He was a fair, diplomatic and caring individual with a love for the people of Detroit and public service," Jones wrote. "He could have been president one day."
Tate said Watson was "dynamic" and "dogged with details," aiding not just Tate's office but all council members as a go-to resource for policy-related advice.
The Cass Technical High School student body leader and graduate ascended in his policy position within Detroit city government. He began as a council intern and quickly made a name for himself, Tate said.
"You name it, he just always rose to leadership positions. Those around him realized he was the best fit to lead," said Tate, who added that he considered Watson like family. "He realized through policy you can truly make a change in society. That's really what he dedicated his life to."
Watson was engaging with community groups and youth, Tate said. He took a special interest in working with and encouraging youth who had come into contact with the criminal justice system so they could get on the right path.
Watson was recently accepted at UM's law school and was set this fall to attend the program in Ann Arbor. Tate said criminal justice was Watson's passion. He wanted to reduce the "school-to-prison pipeline" and ensure those who came into contact with the criminal justice system were treated fairly and given a chance for a positive transformation.
"It wasn't uncommon to see him at a youth detention center where he was sharing experiences with young people who were detained," Tate said. "He did that quite often, with no pay, as a volunteer. He found a group and started working with them and really took pride in it."
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan expressed shock and deep sadness Monday over Watson's death.
"DeAndree was one of Detroit’s rising leaders with a deep commitment to public service and the city he called home," the mayor said in a social media post.
An outpouring of friends, colleagues and family flooded his Facebook page Monday with condolences, photographs, videos and memories.
Among them was former state Rep. Fred Durhal III, D-Detroit, who met Watson in 2011 when Watson, then UM student body president, introduced President Barack Obama, who had appeared there to deliver a speech.
Afterward, Durhal said, Watson joined the campaign of Durhal's father, Fred Durhal Jr., when he made a 2013 bid for Detroit mayor. Instantly, Durhal III said, "DeAndree just became family."
"He became like a brother and just was very sharp. He had great political instincts," Durhal told The News on Monday.
Later, when Durhal III launched his own campaign for state representative in 2014, Watson took on a role as an "invaluable" field organizer and a volunteer. Durhal was elected in November 2014, serving the state's 5th District.
Durhal joked that Watson would affectionately refer to him as "Baby Fred," because "I was just like my dad."
Watson, Durhal said, was "always there" at every campaign kickoff, fundraiser and big event, even during Durhal's unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2018.
"He was just that thoughtful," said Durhal, who now works for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and, just months ago, had talked with Watson about arranging a meeting to discuss housing.
Durhal noted Watson was a "true public servant." He recalls asking Watson one day what his path was and what he wanted to become. Watson answered that he "could be president of the United States," Durhal said, and "I believed him."
"He always chose to excel and wanted to give back to where he came from," Durhal said. "This guy was full-steam ahead. He's gone way too soon. It tears me to pieces."