GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Police say the son of one of the three people found shot dead in Grand Rapids’ Burton Heights neighborhood on Monday was discovered covered in blood and wandering elsewhere in the city after it happened.
The police chief suspects the little boy witnessed his father’s death.
Police on Tuesday identified the three people killed. Malik Eubanks, 19, and Anayia Rodriguez, 20, were found dead in the morning. Darryl Yarber, 32, was found dead in the afternoon.
The mother of Eubanks’ son said he was a good person who was always there for his many friends and worked hard to be a good father.
“He always tried to become successful for (his son),” Cristal Ayala told News 8.
She said Eubanks wanted to become a rapper.
“I don’t want anyone blaming my son’s father for what happened,” Ayala continued. “Malik and Anayia and (my son) were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Malik never expected none of this.”
Family of Anayia Rodriguez recalled her as loving, sweet and soft-spoken. They wanted to make sure she was remembered for the beautiful person she was.
“Our Anayia was a precious blessing to each of us, and we dearly loved her,” one family member said. “We will not let her loving spirit die with this tragedy.”
Rodriguez was a graduate of East Kentwood High School, family said. She was a cheerleader in high school, flying in stunts and always doing cheer jumps. She previously worked at Holland Home as a dietary aid.
“Just a happy, loving child who was loved by everyone,” a family member told News 8.
But after graduating from high school, family said, Rodriguez started hanging out with a different crowd.
CHIEF: VICTIM’S YOUNG SON LIKELY WITNESSED KILLING
Eubanks and Rodriguez were found dead in the street shortly after 11 a.m. — Eubanks on Horton Avenue SE near Mellville Street and Rodriguez on Melville near Francis Avenue.
“At the same time that we were getting information about two bodies lying in the street, we got a call of an unattended child, about a mile away from that incident, covered in blood,” Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom told News 8.
That child is Eubanks’ 2-year-old son. He was not hurt.
“(The boy was) likely driving in a car with (his father). Because he was covered in blood, likely witnessed his father being killed and was right there when it happened,” Winstrom said. “An unforgivable act, in my opinion. I don’t think there’s any explanation that we’re going to get when we come to a conclusion on this that is going to lead us to think that there’s any justification for what took place yesterday.”
The boy is back in the care of his mother. Winstrom said witnessing their reunion was one of the few bright spots of the day for investigators.
“His son sees him (his father) as a hero,” Ayala, the boy’s mother, told News 8. “I want him to continue to see him like that. Malik saved my son’s life, and I thank him for that.”
Police could not say for certain on Monday that Eubanks and Rodriguez had been shot, but an autopsy ultimately confirmed that was the cause of death.
Yarber found shot dead on Horton near Burton Street — about a block from one of the earlier scenes — around 4 p.m., by which time Winstrom said his crews had cleared the area.
All three deaths have been ruled homicides.
A Jeep believed to be connected to Eubanks and Rodriguez’s deaths was spotted by patrol officers around 7:45 p.m. on Sherman Street SE near Dolbee Avenue, about 2 miles from where the shootings happened.
“We don’t know exactly what role it played or how vital a piece of evidence (the Jeep) is,” Winstrom said.
He said police have a lot of forensic evidence to process from the shootings scenes, where the little boy was found and where the car was located.
Police don’t know yet for sure that the morning and afternoon shootings were related to one another, though the chief said his experiences makes him think they were. He also stressed all three appeared to be targeted and there was not believed to be a threat to the public.
ORGANIZER: COMMUNITY HAS ‘AGENCY TO FEEL SAFE’
Detectives were back out in Burton Heights Tuesday, canvassing for more evidence. Winstrom called on anyone with information about or video related to any of the killings to call GRPD at 616.456.3400 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.
“There are people out there with information and we can’t be everywhere at once, so that information is extremely important to us,” Winstrom said. “A lot of murders happen inside a residence, where there are no witnesses, in the dark of night, etc. So for something to happen in broad daylight, in a neighborhood with a lot of residents out, we know there are witnesses, we know there are people with more information and we have been getting a lot of cooperation from the neighborhood.”
The chief said police would be “very vigilant” until the person or people responsible is caught and that neighbors should expect to see more officers than usual around in the coming days.
“We’re taking this extremely seriously,” Winstrom said. “I was down there with my boss, actually, the city manager, and a couple of the city commissioners today, going around the neighborhood, talking about the issues in Burton Heights, at least as far as a police perspective go.”
He said neighbors have already demonstrated that they are passionate about keeping their community safe.
“Violent crime is not acceptable to them,” Winstrom said. “That community’s not going to tolerate it.”
In the spring, people living in Burton Heights came to the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association, worried about more violence in the area.
“Our entire community of Grand Rapids should be concerned,” Fran Dalton, the group’s neighborhood organizer, said. “Not just the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association. Everyone should be concerned.”
Dalton said the group held a block party last month to bring people together and focus on solutions. Now, she said, the killings have sparked fear.
“They’re not feeling safe because this has happened,” Dalton said.
“We have to begin to focus on the healing,” Dalton continued. “We’ve got people that are scared. … We’ve got people that have been traumatized. We’ve got a feeling this is not your safe place any longer, which is absolutely horrible.”
Winstrom said his department, for its part, was committed to finding the people responsible.
“It’s not just about finding the killers and throwing them in prison — which I fully intend to do — it’s about sending the message that we hold life precious in this city, we are not going to ever become numb to gun violence here, we are always going to seek justice for victims,” Winstrom said.
He said adults can help make a change by teaching young people that guns are not the solutions to their problems.
Dalton, from the neighborhood association, emphasized that people should come together and step up to prevent more violence in the neighborhood.
“This is their community and they have power,” Dalton said. “They have agency to feel safe. They don’t have to be made to feel safe, they can do it themselves. But we have to do it as a community.”