Friends, family mourn educator at site of Detroit slaying

Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

Detroit — Kelvin Wheeler Jr. was the kind of man on whom many people relied, who still made time for family, friends and youth.

Kelvin Wheeler Jr.

When he was killed in July, the death of the dean of students at Triumph Middle School in Harper Woods and the father of an 8-year-old with whom he lived, left unanswered questions about his death and a community grieving.

“I need to know what happened," said his father, Kelvin Wheeler Sr. "I need to know who did it and I need to see them go to jail for the rest of their life.”

The elder Wheeler said Kelvin had just left his house minutes before he stopped at a red light on Livernois and Ewald Circle on July 8. Someone fired into his vehicle; Wheeler was shot multiple times. 

On Sunday, the people who were closest to him are seeking for answers in the spot were he was slain. Project Good Samaritan, the faith-based group of Michigan Crime Stoppers, with Liberty Temple Baptist Church, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and Spirit & Truth Christian Ministries gathered friends and family  at the location where Wheeler was cut down for prayers and a community rally to honor the man known for mentoring youth.

Detroit Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said detectives are investigating and searching for a suspect.

Police said a male approached Wheeler’s vehicle on foot and open fired on him through the front windshield at about 11:40 p.m. The suspect took off, police said, in older-model gray sedan.

Wheeler was attending Ashland Theological Seminary Southfield branch and was studying for a master's degree in counseling. He was two semesters away from graduating, according to his pastor, the Rev. Steve Bland.

Bland, the senior pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church, said Wheeler was a minister at the church and Bland was planning his ordination. Wheeler was training to become the youth pastor for the church. Wheeler was a “class act,” Bland said.

DeAndre Smith, a lifelong friend of Wheeler's, said his friend found God at an early age and he professed his calling in ministry before the age of 20.

“We became friends at Christian Community Baptist Church, where he re-instated himself into church," Smith said. “He started talking about becoming a minister when he was about 12 or 13 years old.”

Along with a passion for youth ministry, Wheeler was known for his culinary skills. After receiving a degree in culinary arts, Wheeler worked at Coach Insignia and Seldom Blues before he entered ministry training, his father said. 

He was the person who made others laugh and had a strong connection with the youth, his father said. He served as a football coach.  

“He was a person of influence,” said Wheeler's best friend, Stevie Freeman. “I told him he may be what some young kids needed, and that he should tap in with the youth.”

Freeman, who worked in schools as a mentor and football coach, said Wheeler was dedicated, and had worked his way up to dean of students at Triumph Middle School.

“He went from building sub, to athletic director to dean of students. He could have been a principal one day if he wanted too,” Freeman said.

Freeman said he and Wheeler had spent a lot of time together.

“I saw him pretty much every single day," he said. "We went from coaching football in 2012 together to working in the same schools together. The only school we didn’t work at together was the last school he worked at in Harper Woods. 

"So for that to abruptly come to a halt, it’s different, you know?”

Wheeler was the second oldest sibling of four. 

“He was the guy I could just call and talk to about anything," said his youngest sister, Desiree Wheeler. "He was one of the funniest people I know, always smiling. I miss that so much."

Her brother, she said, always stood on his foundations and dedicated himself to everything he did.

“His greatest accomplishment was his son," she said. "He was like the best father or friend anyone could have. He was really my real-life hero and when I lost him, I felt like a piece of me was taken.”

Wheeler said his son looked to him as his hero, but he looked at his son as his best friend.

“That was my only son, and I could talk to him about anything, and he could talk to me about anything," said Wheeler. "I told him as a parent, when you can say your child is your best friend, you have accomplished everything.”