3 aspiring rappers headed to a Detroit club. They haven't been seen since
For Armani Kelly, 2023 was shaping up to be a major year.
Months after his early release from prison on an armed robbery charge, the 27-year-old Oscoda resident was working, taking college classes, laboriously pursuing rap music and planning a wedding.
"He really turned his life around," said his fiancée, Taylor Perrin, who has known him since they were teens growing up in Lansing.
Now, that life has been upended.
Detroit police and agencies in multiple cities are seeking tips to find Kelly and two friends, Dante Wicker and Montoya Givens, who have been missing for nearly two weeks.
The aspiring rappers had been slated to perform Jan. 21 at Lounge 31 near Gratiot, Cmdr. Michael McGinnis told reporters Monday.
“It’s our understanding that the performance got canceled and from there we just have a whole lot of unanswered questions that we’re trying to find answers for,” McGinnis said. “… We want to find them and get them home to their loved ones.”
Many investigators remain on the case, Detroit police Chief James White told reporters Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Perrin and Kelly's mother, Lorrie Kemp, as well as other relatives, are pushing to keep the case in the public eye. They have crossed the state to post flyers in his hometown, peppered Metro Detroit police with questions and spread the word online.
As days pass without clear answers, fear and frustration have settled in.
"I just don’t understand how this happened and how there’s three grown men missing and nobody seems to know anything," Perrin said.
Though Kemp now believes her son is no longer living, she desperately awaits the tip that can lead to his whereabouts.
"Somebody knows somebody who knows something," she told The Detroit News on Tuesday.
Kelly, who performed under the alias Marley Whoop, was believed to have picked up Wicker and Givens before the show, according to a poster released by Missing in Michigan.
All three met in prison, Perrin said.
Kelly has long loved to rap, even carrying a notebook filled with rhymes as a teen, and connected with a producer after his release. He performed his first show last year and planned the second in Detroit, a much larger and well-connected market, Perrin said. "He just really wanted his music out and was just trying to promote it."
The Saturday night of the Lounge show, Kelly told his fiancée the gig was canceled over an equipment issue, so he planned to link up with others and possibly find open mic events. But texts, calls and Facebook messages went unanswered sometime after 7:30 p.m., she said.
While authorities believe Kelly and the others reached the venue, "what we don’t know completely is what happened from that point, if they left together or what," White said a the Tuesday briefing at Detroit Police Department headquarters. "... We’re looking at all of the video assets in the area and we’re looking at a number of other things."
Worried about Kelly's silence, Perrin alerted Kemp and the pair rushed to Metro Detroit.
With help from OnStar, Kemp tracked the 2017 Chevrolet Equinox he borrowed for the weekend to Warren.
It was eventually found muddy, without a license plate, at an apartment complex near Queens Court, Perrin said.
Warren police recovered the car on Jan. 23. Authorities have been examining it for evidence, McGinnis said.
Meanwhile, after news spread online, relatives of Wicker and Givens reported them missing to police in Melvindale and Detroit, where they lived, the commander said.
Investigators have reviewed phone records for the three men and found no activity since late Jan. 21 or early Jan. 22, he added.
No social media activity has been detected either, White told reporters Tuesday.
“In this case, the fact that the three of them are missing together is very concerning and alarming for us,” McGinnis said.
Perrin fears she won't be able to realize her dream of starting over with Kelly in Grand Rapids.
"It doesn’t look good how many days it’s been, that he’s still alive, but I'm not going to give up until I see his face again," she said. "... We were so close to be able to start our life and somebody just took it all away. I just beg for help, for anything. I need answers and, if it comes to it, I need closure, because I will never forget and I will never stop."
Kemp has been posting frequently online about the case, seeking tips. She hasn't returned home to Oscoda, where her son had started pursuing his goal of working in tree trimming while dabbling in music.
Most days are devoted to canvassing and posting flyers wherever possible to spotlight the case. "I'm a very resourceful woman and I will do whatever it takes to get my son where he needs to be," she said. "I'm going to wait for another week. If I don’t hear of anything, then I’ll go home."
Her voice rises angrily when reflecting on her belief that police in Detroit, Warren and even Oscoda were slow to devote many resources to the case due to perceptions of Kelly and his friends. "I think they thought they’re disposable men," Kemp said.
Like Kemp, Perrin has pushed back against criticism about the men having criminal histories.
"They did their time. Everybody mistakes in life and they were charged with crimes. They did their time and that’s it," she said. "Armani did his time and came out as a whole new person. He knew what he did was wrong and that is not the path he wanted to travel on. ... At the end of the day they’re still a human being and they deserve to be seen and heard."
McGinnis said Monday that authorities are working hard on the case. "We will leverage all our technology assets," he said. "We’ve got license plate readers. We've got Green Light cameras, and I'm confident that using those tools will help us get the answers that these families deserve."
Anyone with information is asked to contact Detroit police at (313) 596-5600, Melvindale police at (313) 429-1070 or Warren police at (586) 574-4700.
White said "the case is wide open and extremely active" but also rests on tips.
"We need the public’s help on this case," he said.