GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police on Wednesday released images of a person of interest in the October death of a man outside a shuttered church on the city’s West Side.
Grand Rapids Police Department Capt. Chad McKersie said that in the four months since Santino Ysasi was killed, detectives have worked more than 1,000 hours on the case and gone through hundreds of surveillance videos.
“We need the community’s assistance to solve this crime and provide justice for Santino and his family,” McKersie said during a Wednesday news conference.
Ysasi, 46, died Oct. 19 behind the now-closed Saint James Catholic Church on Bridge Street NW. He was homeless and often spent his nights behind the church.
The video and photos released Wednesday show the last person who was in the area before Ysasi died, McKersie explained. The video from around 3:30 a.m. shows the person walking past an abandoned building behind the church. McKersie pointed out the person of interest’s clothes and the way the person walked. Still images from a different surveillance camera on some nearby apartments provided a clearer view of the clothing: a puffy jacket with a hood, mask and backpack.
The homicide itself was not captured on surveillance video, McKersie said.
He said GRPD has already gotten plenty of leads but exhausted them all, so detectives are turning to the public for help.
“Our hope is by putting this video out and these still shots is that it will help jog someone’s memory or remember a key detail of that morning in question when Santino was killed so we can help identify and have further leads in this case,” he said.
Anyone with information about the person of interest is asked to call GRPD at 616.456.3380 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345. Silent Observer is offering a reward of up to $3,200 for information that leads to an arrest.
McKersie said people should report “anything” that could be relevant.
“If they think, ‘Hey, so-and-so kind of walks like that,’ feel free to reach out. Just because you provide us a name that we look into doesn’t mean that’s the person. If it is and it helps us solve the case, that’s amazing. That’s why we need the community’s help. We’re in this together,” he said.
He said the Saint James property has become a common place for people who are homeless to sleep, making beds in alcoves or doorways to get some protection from the elements.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of issues on this private property for a while regarding homelessness,” McKersie said.
The killing put many in the homeless community on edge. After it, the GRPD Homeless Outreach Team urged people sleep in shelters and stick together as a safety tactic.
SISTER: HE WAS ‘PILLAR OF OUR FAMILY’
Ysasi had five children, a wife and five siblings. In the days after his death, his sister, Christina Miller, remembered at an October vigil as funny, kind, loving and “the protector” of the family.
“My whole life my brother was the protector,” she said. “The protector to everybody and in the end, he was not protected.”
Four months after Ysasi’s death, members of his family say they remain stricken by grief.
“It’s hard because for us, him being the oldest of all of us, that’s the pillar of our family,” said Jessica Ogren, one of Santino Ysasi’s sisters. “Every day you think you’ve gotten a little further with accepting it, but then there’s always triggers, things like the video that set you right back to where you were in the beginning,”
His brother, Mike Miller, in a statement said Ysasi always provided for others.
“He made magic and always provided for others even when he was without. A heart like that doesn’t deserve unrest. We miss him greatly. I want the community to know that homelessness shouldn’t make anyone less of a person, as I feel he is being made.”Mike Miller, brother of Santino Ysasi
Following the release of the video and photos of a person of interest, Ogren said some of her family wished that the images were shown to the public earlier.
“We have questions, why did it take so long, why are we almost four months into this and now just seeing the video,” Ogren said.
Despite questions surrounding the timing that the images were revealed, she hopes they will help track down who killed her brother.
“That person had a puffy coat. Do you see somebody always walking around with a backpack, they’re never without it. That’s a clue. Or maybe the fact the way their feet were turned in. That’s another clue,” Ogren said.
As Ysasi’s family seeks justice, Ogren had a message for the person responsible for the killing.
“Regardless if there’s ever earthly justice, we really want that and you deserve to pay for what you’ve done, but there will be a heavenly justice and you will pay for it no matter what,” Ogren said.