3 slayings weeks apart rock Sterling Heights

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Nearly a decade ago, Bridget Hopson and her children left Detroit for Sterling Heights to find better schools and, she hoped, a bright future.

From left, Tamylia Wallace, 13, Alfred Daniel and his wife, Bridget Hopson, light candles during a vigil for Daniel and Hopson's daughter, Kiah Hopson, who was fatally shot at the Parkside East Apartments in Sterling Heights.

The family thrived in the Macomb County community that its leaders, citing federal statistics, routinely tout as among the safest in Michigan. Hopson could hardly recall a time when she felt unsafe or worried her four children might face serious troubles.

But that was shattered this month, when a detective arrived at her doorstep and shared unimaginable news; her 24-year-old daughter, Kiah, had been found dead outside the apartment complex she’d moved to months earlier, the city’s third homicide victim of 2017.

Though Hopson believes police are diligently working to solve the case, she hesitates to suggest the city is fully secure.

“This is so unfair to end my daughter’s life this early,” she said. “If they got someone in custody, the city would be a lot better off.”

The slaying is the third in recent weeks, tripling its 2016 murder total. All of the killings unfolded in public places about five miles apart in less than a three-week span.

To reassure residents, Mayor Michael Taylor issued a statement calling the incidents “unusual for our very safe city” and stressed authorities are committed to seeking justice.

“Sterling Heights Police has reported all three incidents are isolated and involve unique circumstances related to the victims,” he said. “The city has experienced homicides in the past and, in all cases, the outcome has resulted in the perpetrators being captured and brought to justice.”

Sufian Saba and his nephew, Laith Anki, were found dead at Laith’s Candy Land LLC, which is now boarded up.

The first death was reported Nov. 27 at a wholesale food business on Mound Road.

Inside the facility, which according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs was incorporated as Laith’s Candy Land LLC two months earlier, employee Sufian “Samuel” Saba, 51, had been found fatally shot, police reported.

A GoFundMe page described him as a loyal husband and father of two.

“My dad was known by many names, but ‘Victim’ has never crossed my mind,” his son, Sam, wrote on Facebook. “There are only a few things I have of his, but I’m proud to carry his smile.”

Saba was reportedly found by his nephew, Laith Anki, who state records list as the company’s resident agent.

On Facebook, the 26-year-old described his uncle as “my favorite person in my life a man that has taught me everything.”

Days later, as relatives coordinated a funeral, Anki shared the same fate.

At about 4 a.m. Dec. 2, officers were alerted that he had gone missing. A probe led them to check his workplace. They found him dead inside with apparent gunshot wounds.

“The two homicides appear to be targeted and related,” police have said in a press release. Investigators have not released other details.

Relatives did not respond to interview requests. Sam Saba told WDIV-TV (Channel 4) that they “definitely all are fearful. This has been two targeted family members ...”

Hopson’s loved ones also doubt her death, which spurred condolences online, was random.

At about 7:45 a.m. Dec. 9, shortly after she returned home in the 42000 block of Parkside Circle from her late shift at an Oakland County nursing center, police fielded a call about gunshots. Officers soon found the nurse “laying on the ground deceased from multiple gunshot wounds,” investigators wrote.

Authorities have not disclosed a possible motive. Hopson’s mother does not believe it involved a robbery since no valuables appeared to be taken.

“It was definitely somebody she knows,” she contends. “They had to know when she was coming home.”

It was an appalling end for the vivacious young woman dubbed the “Beyoncé of the family” due to her glamorous style, who skipped senior prom to work, still drove a younger sister around, paid relatives’ bills as well as gifted expensive mini-cars to a nephew and godchild.

“She liked to keep the peace all the time,” said her father, Alfred Daniel. “She had a big heart.”

The Sterling Heights Police Department is following up on tips on all three cases and “looking at everyone,” Lt. Mario Bastianelli said. “We’re utilizing every bit of resource to keep the community safe.”

The deaths do not necessarily reflect a trend, he added. “Having these type of incidents happen is very rare.”

Tatyana Branch-Jorgensen of Detroit holds a candle during a vigil for her cousin, Kiah Hopson, on Dec. 15, which would have been Hopson’s 25th birthday.

In 2015, Sterling Heights recorded five homicides after consecutive years of none reported, but administrators said suspects were arrested and convicted in each case.

The FBI Preliminary Crime Statistics Report released this fall showed that last year, compared to the seven Michigan municipalities with populations over 100,000, Sterling Heights scored safest in seven out of 10 categories. Property crimes, burglaries, larcenies, car thefts, arson and sexual assaults also significantly decreased, the analysis showed.

But at church brunches and in living rooms, some of the city’s 132,000-plus residents recognize how the shocking violence can affect perceptions, even temporarily.

“It raises questions,” said Brian Brennan, a resident of more than 40 years. “The uncertainty — that’s what people wonder about.”

So far, the recent slayings have not prompted Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce members to relay a need to boost security at their businesses, said Melanie Davis, its president and CEO. “These are unfortunate circumstances, but I think we have a lot of faith in our Police Department.”

Damian Sharbowski, who runs an auto shop off 15 Mile, said he feels safe in the city he’s resided in since the 1970s. “There is a strong police presence.”

Still, the loss haunts Hopson’s family and friends, who gathered Dec. 15 on what would have been her 25th birthday for a vigil near the spot where she was gunned down.

Joining the crowd was City Councilman Michael Radtke. He believes the tragedy is an anomaly.

“This is unacceptable in any place,” he said. “But especially Sterling Heights.”

Report tips

Anyone with information on the three cases is asked to contact the Sterling Heights Investigations Bureau at (586) 446-2825.