GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The suspect in a Wyoming homicide and Grand Rapids shooting was arrested at a McDonald’s along Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile Monday night, police say.
Police found Willie Bryant Jr. at the fast food restaurant on Michigan Street NE west of College Avenue shortly after 9 p.m. An employee said Bryant was next in line to order when officers came in with guns drawn and surrounded him.
“The police ran up in here like, ‘Put your hands up!’ And I threw my hands up because I was shocked, so I just threw my hands up right along with him,” the worker, Lynbasia Broyles, said. “He threw his hands up and he was cooperating.”
Employees did not know who tipped off police that Bryant was at the store. Broyles said she didn’t notice anything unusual about him before police arrived.
Bryant Jr., 33, is believed to have shot and killed 48-year-old gas station clerk Shannon Schoen in Wyoming Monday morning. He also faces three charges, including attempted murder, for allegedly shooting and critically injuring a woman in Grand Rapids’ Baxter neighborhood Sunday afternoon.
SHOOTING AT GAS STATION
The shooting that killed Schoen happened around 6 a.m. Monday at the Marathon gas station at the intersection of 28th Street and Buchanan Avenue. The owner of the gas station said he was working when the gunman — who he said he didn’t recognize — came in. Police originally said the victim was the only person inside.
The owner said the gunman shot Schoen then turned to him, asking him for “everything he has.” The owner said he didn’t have anything on him. That’s when the gunman turned back to Schoen, fired another shot and left, according to the owner.
He said he panicked, ran outside and flagged down a passing driver, who pulled into the gas station. That driver told 24 Hour News 8 she went into the store, found an employee with a gunshot wound and called 911. The owner said he remembered he had his cellphone in his pocket after flagging down the passerby and also called 911.
The gas station owner added later that it didn’t appear anything had been stolen.
The shooter got away in a car driven by another person. Cameras in and outside the store captured what happened, including images of the getaway car, described as a white Cadillac from the early 2000s.
The suspected getaway driver has been arrested and charges are pending, the Wyoming Department of Public Safety says, but police are also looking for a second apparent accomplice, an unidentified man last seen in a blue jacket, light-colored striped shirt and khaki pants. They provided two surveillance images of him in the hopes that the public could help identify him.
Anyone with information about where the accomplice may be or with other information about either shooting is asked to call Wyoming police at 616.530.7300, GRPD at 616.456.3400 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.
EX-HUSBAND: ‘SHANNON HAD NO ENEMIES’
Schoen was a mother of four: three daughters ages 17, 19 and 21 and an 11-year-old son.
The gas station owner said Schoen had worked at the store for nearly seven years, was a good worker and enjoyed working third shift. Schoen’s ex-husband said she had previously been robbed four times while working.
Tony Berkenpas, the father of Schoen’s three daughters, said he remained close with Schoen after their divorce. He said she was always helping people out. He said if customers at the gas station were short a few dollars, she would cover them. She even let a homeless man sleep in her car once.
He said he can’t understand why anyone would hurt her.
“I know for a fact that there’s no grudge, because Shannon had no enemies. She really did not,” Berkenpas said. “Everyone knows her. Everybody knew her. I’d be there (at the gas station) for a half hour and 30 people would come in at two in the morning (and say), ‘Hi, Shannon, how you doing? How’s your car running? How’s life treating you?'”
A GoFundMe account has been set up to support Schoen’s children.
HOURSLONG PERIMETER AROUND EMPTY HOME
GRPD says officers spotted and pulled over a white Cadillac matching the suspect vehicle description Monday morning. The man behind the wheel, believed to be the getaway driver, was arrested.
Police say they learned that the suspect may have gotten out of the car and gone into a nearby home in the 900 block of Franklin Street SE, east of Eastern Avenue, just before the traffic stop. As a result, GRPD set up a perimeter around 10:45 a.m. and called in their Special Response Team and crisis negotiators. Two people came out of the house when police told them to. Neither were the suspect.
Franklin Street was closed between Dallas and Geneva avenues and residents on Franklin Street between Dallas and Geneva avenues were asked to shelter in place.
“We’re working (out of) an overabundance of caution,” GRPD Chief David Rahinsky said.
Throughout the day, police repeated the suspect’s name over their loud speakers:
“Willie Bryant,” officers said. “We know you’re inside.”
However, police told reporters that they weren’t actually certain if who, if anyone, was there.
In addition to calling for the suspect, officers activated their sirens off and on.
“We’re trying to slow this down and give them every opportunity to go out before we have to go in. So it’s pretty clear that we’re out here (and) we want them to come out,” GRPD Deputy Chief Eric Payne explained.
Shortly after 4 p.m., an armored personnel carrier pulled into the driveway of the home. Officers then went to the front door, at which point a flash bang could be heard going off. Police said at 4:30 p.m. that they had not yet entered the home and instead had put some electronic devices inside. They still weren’t certain anyone was inside.
Armed with a warrant, SRT officers entered the home around 5 p.m. and found that no one was there. GRPD said teams would search it anyway.
SUSPECT’S DAD DOESN’T BELIEVE HE WAS INVOLVED IN HOMICIDE
While the Franklin Street home was surrounded, Bryant Jr.’s father waited anxiously to see what would happen.
Willie Bryant Sr. said he never thought his son was in the home, but was still worried he could lose his life in a showdown with police. Speaking with 24 Hour News 8 Monday afternoon, he pleaded with his son to give himself up.
“There’s too much happening, brother, and they’re thinking you’re doing all of this. You need to turn yourself in,” he said, hoping his words would reach his son.
Bryant Sr. said he was convinced his son didn’t have anything to do with the shooting that killed Schoen.
“He ain’t got nothing to do with that,” he said. “…He don’t even know them people. Why would he go out there and just murder another person if he already shot somebody? That don’t make sense. He don’t have no driver’s license, he don’t own no car, so I know he wasn’t in no white Cadillac.”
He does think that his son was involved in the other shooting that happened around 2:20 p.m. Sunday on Thomas Street SE, only a few blocks away from the home on Franklin. In that incident, a 55-year-old woman was shot multiple times, GRPD said. She remained in the hospital Monday evening in critical but stable condition.
GRPD said the shooting stemmed from an argument between neighbors. Bryant Sr. said it was his son’s ex-girlfriend who was in a disagreement with the victim.
“I’m hoping that it’s not my son, but the evidence I’m getting from witnesses and stuff, that’s what they say,” Bryant Sr. said.
GRPD said its detectives identified Bryant Jr. as their suspect on Sunday and had been looking for him since then.
In the Sunday shooting, Bryant Jr. faces charges of assault with intent to murder, felony firearm and being a fourth-time habitual offender. Charges haven’t yet been authorized in the homicide.
Police say they’re still looking into other crimes he may be connected to.
According to online Michigan State Police records, Bryant’s criminal record dates back to 2004 and includes multiple charges for driving without a proper license; multiple felony drug charges, including for possession of narcotics; a felony fleeing police charge; and a misdemeanor assault charge. In 2013, he graduated to theft, with convictions for larceny from a motor vehicle and receiving and concealing a stolen motor vehicle.
Online records show he was last discharged from the Michigan Department of Corrections in October 2016.
—24 Hour News 8’s Joe LaFurgey, Heather Walker and Brady Gillum contributed to this report.
**Correction: A previous version of this article showed a photo of Schoen’s daughter, not Schoen herself. The incorrect photo has been removed. We regret the error.