Metro Detroit missing person cases leave families with heartbreak, uncertainty

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

In the cold, early days of 2022, two Metro Detroit families miles apart shared the same, unthinkable heartbreak.

Both awaited any clues leading them to the loved ones they had reported missing: Latima Warren, a Detroit mother of four, and Zion Foster, a 17-year-old high school student. Through canvassing, linking with activists and flurried social media posts, they strived to spread the word online and in their neighborhoods.

Last week, one family inched closer to closure when authorities uncovered remains identified as Warren’s and arrested a man in connection with her death.

But as police investigate both cases, questions remain about what led to the pair’s demise. And their relatives are working to ensure they won’t be forgotten or denied justice.

“We’re just trying to get our daughter back,” said James Royster, Zion's father. “All we want is for Zion to come home.”

Latima Warren, a Detroit mother of four, and Zion Foster, a 17-year-old high school student, both went missing.

Warren’s family spent weeks searching for her after she failed to return home on Vaughan one night in late December.

It was unusual for the 32-year-old, who has two boys and two girls under 14, to miss holiday gatherings. Then, her birthday followed in early January with no word. 

“It was pretty hard,” said Adrian Warren, her older brother. “I knew something was wrong.”

Her mother, Charita Warren, also suspected the lively daughter known for cracking jokes and demanding homemade peach cobbler had met an untimely end. Yet she remained vigilant as her family posted flyers and teamed up to search when some didn’t feel police were investigating fast enough.

Relying on faith, she steeled herself for the news that police had found two bags filled with remains at the home where Warren stayed with boyfriend Rondell Watters and their 3-month-old son.

Warren was determined to be the victim; her death was ruled a homicide, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said.

Watters was charged with one count each of open murder, mutilating a body and tampering with evidence.

As he faces a hearing next month in the Watters case, Charita Warren still wrestles with questions on sleepless, grief-stricken nights: “How could a person do something like that who was just lovable? She didn’t deserve what happened to her. It was really an awful thing.”

Uncertainty also has haunted Zion’s family since she left home in Eastpointe late Jan. 4, still wearing the Detroit Wing Company uniform worn to work earlier.

The teen texted her mother, Ciera Milton, around 1 a.m. Jan. 5, to say she was headed home but never showed up.

Royster doubts Zion, the oldest of seven children who loved apple juice, TikTok and doting on her siblings, ran away. “She’s a senior,” he said. “We were talking about her graduation and what dress she wanted to wear and what college she might want to go to. There was a lot going on.”

Since leaving, the youth missed out on saying goodbye to her beloved grandmother, who died days after the disappearance following a cancer battle, Royster said. The two “talked every day,” he added. “She’s a big part of her family.”

The family went to Eastpointe police and eventually launched a GoFundMe campaign to aid search efforts.

Milton and others repeatedly posted on social media to highlight the case, pleading for tips and leads.

She wrote on Facebook that her daughter left with a cousin, Jaylin Brazier.

Eastpointe police, who worked with the FBI and Detroit police on the case, said an investigation following evidence collected from search warrants determined Zion went missing from a house in Detroit and Brazier was a person of interest.

Hours after a press conference last week when Detroit police named him, Brazier, who is in his 20s, turned himself in at a local precinct. 

He remained in custody on Friday night but other details were not being released, said Sgt. William O’Brien, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, now the lead agency in the case.

Eastpointe Police Lt. Robert Koenigsmann said his department arrested Brazier on a felony warrant and a hearing was scheduled for Monday at 38th District Court.

Court records show he faces charges of lying to an officer in an investigation.

Royster and his relatives wonder what investigators will uncover but can only focus on the empty spot at home where Zion usually rested after school and work. “We don’t know where our daughter is, and the kids don’t know where their sister is,” he said.

The significance of both missing cases pushed supporters such as community activist Malik Shabazz to join the searches while hitting the streets for answers.

“People don’t just disappear,” he said. “Someone does something and it’s up to the living to speak for them. It's up to those who are not lost to look ... We need all of the missing people home.”