Group unveils memorial garden for slain Armada teen

Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

Armada — The family of April Millsap and residents of Armada say they won't let how the 14-year-old died define her life and their community.

As blustery winds blew and gray clouds hovered low in the sky Tuesday, the teen's mother, Jennifer Millsap, placed a vase filled with flowers at the base of an antique bell, which she rang in memory of her daughter at the site of the April Millsap Memorial Garden on the Macomb Orchard Trail.

Visitors will be able to ring that bell in memory of April.

"I am very excited. April liked nature and she enjoyed walking on the trail," said Millsap about the garden honoring her daughter. "I think she would have enjoyed this."

The garden site is near where April's body was found in July along the hike and bike trail that is a 24-mile linear park stretching from Shelby Township to Richmond.

April Milsap

Located at Fulton near the hiking and biking trail in Armada, Jennifer Millsap was joined by family, friends, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and other community leaders and volunteers at the 1,400-square-foot garden.

Jean Persely, a master gardener and Armada resident, is one of many volunteers to step forward and offer ways to honor April.

Persely said the garden will include benches, a bike rack and a bike repair station.

"It is one garden that is a healing garden for Jennifer and the community to honor April but it will service a multitude of purposes," Persely said.

Plants and flowers will be planted to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Persely added that the group behind the garden will seek certification from the National Wildlife Federation to have the garden registered as a wildlife habitat.

Persely said the Macomb Orchard Trail Commission rejected the garden plan in March because of its size. When Hackel learned of the rejection, he pushed to have the garden created.

"In the next couple of months you are going to see an incredible sight," Hackel said Tuesday.

The garden will cost up to $9,000 to complete and is scheduled to be open to visitors in the summer.

To date, $7,200 has been raised, said Julie Depoorter, volunteer donation coordinator, who added that support has come from throughout Macomb County.

An artist rendering of The April Millsap Memorial Garden.

"I never expected this much support, it is overwhelming and beautiful," Millsap said.

Jessie Kanehl, a 14-year-resident of Armada, said she was shocked to hear about April's murder, which brought back horrible memories of loss in her own life.

"I have lost a step-son to homicide," she said. "Then to have it happen in my community, where I felt safe. And then all of a sudden I didn't feel safe. I used to walk right here every day with my dog and then I stopped.

"It is healing for the community because what happened on the trail left such an ugly stain. As a community and especially for Jennifer and her family, we need to heal."

James VanCallis, 33, is charged in Millsap's death. His lawyer has said there's no DNA evidence linking VanCallis to April's death.

VanCallis is scheduled to stand trial Sept. 15. A status conference in the case is July 15.

Millsap said she plans on coming to the April Millsap Memorial Garden often.

"I sure will," she said. "I sure will."

(313) 222-2613

How to help

Those who wish to donate can visit April Millsap Memorial Garden on Facebook.