Unsolved murder stirs fears in Detroit’s Midtown
On the first Saturday night in January, Devante Hogan rushed home to prepare for another outing.
The 23-year-old Grosse Pointe resident had just watched a movie with a friend and wanted to swap outerwear before heading to a popular hookah spot in Midtown Detroit that he loved visiting, recalled his mother, Percilla Poole. As usual, the college student with two jobs and bountiful humor seemed upbeat.
“I love you,” Poole told her son as he moved to the door. “Be safe.” Hogan responded: “I love you. I’ll be back.”
He never returned.
Hours after that exchange, the aspiring veterinarian was dead, felled by bullets just outside a lively nightspot, amid an area bursting with new development and often touted as one of the Motor City’s best neighborhoods.
Weeks later, Detroit investigators are extending their hunt for an assailant in the Jan. 8 slaying they do not believe was random.
“We really are asking for the public’s help to bring closure to the family and get this very violent killer off the street,” said Michael Woody, director of media relations for the Detroit Police Department. “To be able to commit such a crime in front of an establishment that is packed full of potential witnesses, I mean that is brazen.”
The death sent shock waves across the area and led some to wonder if Midtown, long viewed as a haven amid its neighboring troubled spots, was back in crime’s crosshairs. Coupled with the recent shooting of a university police officer, the shooting heightened worries about safety.
The slaying, which occurred shortly after Wayne State University police Officer Collin Rose was fatally shot last November about a mile south, stunned those who live, visit and work in Midtown.
“This is crazy,” Maya Almaleki, owner/manager of Maya’s Indo-Pak Cuisine on Second Avenue, said between taking orders on a recent rainy night. “Who was expecting that? It was shocking to me.”
The slaying “has been extremely upsetting for my tenants,” said Sydney Rooks, who manages the nearby Sheridan Court Apartments. “Anytime anyone loses their life, especially in a senseless way, is upsetting to everybody. We know it happens all too often these days. We’ve had very little of it in Midtown. It is very disturbing to us.”
The area, which includes parts of Detroit’s Cass Corridor, boasts numerous restaurants, theaters, galleries, museums, stores and other destinations attracting visitors from across the region, according to Midtown Detroit Inc. At least 10 finished developments added 645 new residential units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space last year, the group found.
Meanwhile, the policing efforts of Midtown Compstat, a collaboration of security agencies and the Wayne State University and Detroit police departments that focused on crime hot spots and high-impact offenders, led to a 54 percent decrease overall in crime between 2008-15, and a 68 percent drop in robberies, larcenies and auto thefts, officials said.
Woody said crimes like the Hogan shooting “are not indicative of Midtown or the downtown area,” where the more prevalent issues are property crimes.
Midtown Detroit executive director Susan Mosey called the shooting “highly unusual.” In the wake of the incident and amid growing resident concerns about nightlife near the scene, she said the group has boosted security there through a private patrol working with WSU police, she said.
“We have also been providing an overnight security patrol in Brush Park for the last six months at the request of residents in that area. This has been working very well in both areas at this point. We are committed to keeping these patrols as long as needed to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors to our district.”
Ben Ness, an employee at the Marcus Market down the street who was working the night of the Hogan shooting, said he was surprised by the gunfire in an area he described as “unusually quiet.”
Detroiters noted crime in the neighborhood decades ago, he said, but that changed along with the area’s recent transformation. “This is a swanky, shiny polished area now. And with the Wayne State police, too — they have so much extra law enforcement around here. I always feel very secure.”
The shooting did not alarm Aaron Setzer, who frequents the Bronx Bar on Second. “It’s less common, but it still can happen,” he said on a mid-week evening. “I’m sure it’s safer now, but it doesn’t mean it’s out of the question.”
A family mourns
Hogan’s family, meanwhile, still seeks answers.
“I don’t understand: How can a child that don’t gang-bang, don’t sell drugs, don’t do nothing but school, a job and back home get gunned down right here?” said his aunt, Sheletha Poole.
Hogan, who attended Michigan Collegiate High School in Warren, was studying at Macomb Community College, intent on becoming a veterinarian, she said.
The young man worked as a mattress assembler and also at Wal-Mart, relatives said. “He’s a very hard worker,” an aunt, Yalanda Johnson, said.
A cousin, Cawanna Costner, said Hogan had no criminal record and was more content to “chill” and crack jokes with loved ones. “He liked music, he liked hookah, hanging with his family and friends,” she said. “He’s not a hood guy — none of that extra stuff. No drama.”
Until the shooting, Percilla Poole said she thought Midtown was safe. She still prefers to believe the violence that claimed her son’s life is “really not about the area; it’s the person who did it,” she said. “I would like to know why they would even do something like this.”
Authorities are working to learn the same — combing surveillance footage that filmed a person of interest, who allegedly fled in a white, four-door Chevrolet Impala SS with a sunroof and spoiler on the back end, Woody, the Detroit Police spokesman, said. “We do not believe that this was random. However, we do believe it was isolated: between those two individuals.”
To spur tips, police recently released an image of the car.
“We don’t want anybody to forget,” Woody said. “We want to remember this young man and we want to find his killer.”
Regardless of what prompted the shooting, loved ones are hoping to keep Hogan’s memory alive.
On a Friday evening shortly after the shooting, dozens gathered at the intersection near the site.
As cars passed, they arranged candles to spell his name then bowed their heads as Pastor Antonio Pitts prayed. Then, one by one, several lit white sky lanterns and lifted each in the freezing air.
Some of the observers cried. Others were somber and reflective.
“That night changed everything,” said Tayvon Smith, a longtime friend. “He should be here. They took the wrong person.”
Anyone with information on the Jan. 8 fatal shooting of Devante Hogan is asked to call the Detroit Police Department at (313) 596-1616. Anonymous tips can also be left through the DPD Connect app or Crime Stoppers of Michigan at 1-800-SPEAK-UP.
Hogan’s family also seeks financial help through GoFundMe.