By Tresa Baldas, Robert Allen and Katrease Stafford, Detroit Free Press
At her prestigious, private school in Grosse Pointe Woods, Paige Stalker was known as a disciplined honor student and lacrosse player who aspired to be a doctor one day.
In her neighborhood, she was the popular babysitter who won kids over by taking them to Starbucks.
But on Monday night, her seemingly idyllic life ended tragically in a shooting on a rundown street on Detroit’s east side, which has many wondering: How did this all-A student from the exclusive University Liggett School end up dead, just three blocks west of her affluent suburb, and what were she and four other teens doing there?
That’s the mystery that police are trying to solve as they search for the gunman who fired up to 30 shots into a parked car that Paige and four other teens were sitting in, smoking pot.
Paige died. Three others were wounded. The bullets missed the fifth teen.
“It’s really a tough time,” said University Liggett junior Alexander Minanov, 16, who went to school with Paige since freshman year. “It was just so shocking. I’ve been talking to a bunch of my classmates and everybody is shocked and still a little in denial.”
Minanov added: “It’s just really sad that instead of planning for Christmas, the family has to plan for a funeral.”
Police believe the teens were targeted.
“We do not believe this is a random attack,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said on Tuesday, stressing that “there are some other dimensions of this that we know about that I can’t go into at this point.”
The shooting happened at about 9:15 p.m. Monday. Police say the teens were smoking marijuana in a silver Mercury Milan on Philip near Charlevoix, just three blocks from Detroit’s border with Grosse Pointe Park, when a vehicle pulled in front of them. The driver got out of the passenger side and began firing. Detroit police spokesman Adam Madera said crime-scene investigators found 25 to 30 shell casings.
A bullet hit Paige in the head. A 16-year-old Grosse Pointe girl was struck in the back, a 15-year-old boy from Grosse Pointe was hit twice in the left arm, and a 16-year-old boy from Detroit was hit in the shoulder, police said.
Investigators were initially told the gunman was wearing Army-style fatigues and possibly body armor.
But the victims gave conflicting statements, police said, initially telling officers they were looking for the brother of one of the passengers and had pulled over in the area of Charlevoix and Philip when the attack occurred. They also said they were on their way to see a movie.
“They’re scared to tell their parents what they’re doing” in Detroit, Assistant Police Chief Steve Dolunt said of teenagers who venture into Detroit.
After the shooting, one of the teens drove the others about 21/2 miles to Beaumont Hospital on Cadieux in Grosse Pointe.
Dolunt said he hopes police get “a straight story” from the teens.
“The kids in Grosse Pointe — they think it can’t happen to them,” he said. “People shouldn’t blame the people in Detroit; your kids are buying drugs there.”
Craig said he knows of no statements that that’s what happened in this case, and that linking drugs to the shooting is “pure speculation” at this time.
“It’s tragic,” he said of the shooting. “Our hearts go out to the family.”
Prayers and songs
Nearly 60 people gathered Tuesday evening in front of the Grosse Pointe Woods City Hall for a vigil for Paige and the other victims.
Several University Liggett classmates held candles, cried, prayed and sang songs of comfort.
Grosse Pointe Woods resident Lori Weitzmann helped organized the event through a Grosse Pointe mothers’ group on Facebook in hopes of bringing the community together during a time of pain.
“My husband woke me up at 4 a.m. to tell me what happened,” she said. “My son knows a couple of the girls, and he said for him it really puts life into perspective.”
At the vigil, some of the students and neighbors of the victims held signs that said “Bless Paige Stalker.”
“I couldn’t imagine getting that call in the middle of the night,” Weitzmann said. “They’re victims of circumstance. I can’t imagine what the parents are feeling, and as a community, we all just wanted to come together. This is a tragedy. We’re all grieving.”
Weitzmann’s neighbor Elisabeth Wagner said she came to support the teens who know the shooting victims.
“If this event just helps one person heal, then its job has been done,” Wagner said. “No child deserves to have their innocence destroyed.”
Earlier, news of the high school student’s death quickly spread across the five communities that make up Grosse Pointe.
Those who knew her — as well as those who didn’t — were stunned and devastated by the news.
Jim Ryszewski, one of the victim’s neighbors, said Paige had just babysat his children on Friday night.
“She was a straight-A student. She babysat our children and was very well liked by all of the neighborhood families,” Ryszewski said, adding his children are “very distraught” and “upset” about the killing.
“She would take them shopping to Partridge Creek, to Starbucks. She took them ice-skating,” Ryszewski said of Paige. “She certainly played a role in their lives.”
Many took to social media to express their grief and frustration, including Paige’s uncle, Geoff Lawrence of Grosse Pointe Park, who wrote on his Facebook page late Monday: “My beautiful, loving, niece Paige Stalker was murdered tonight! … I miss you!”
“As you can imagine, we are heartbroken over the death of one of our students, and our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends and to the entire Liggett community during this very difficult time,” said Michelle Franzen Martin, director of Marketing and Communications.
Many posted on Twitter that they were praying for her family, or that Paige would be missed.
One Twitter user, @savannah_center posted: “Rip Paige. So many love you. To young to have been taken. #RIPPaige.”
Some even mentioned they didn’t know Stalker personally, but still felt affected.
“Devastated, saddened, and disgusted by this,” @Umbra_Blades tweeted. “Even though I didn’t know her, I am still in shock. #RIPPaige , justice will be served.”
The sound of rapid fire
Harold Meeks, editor of the blog TellusDetroit.com, lives near the shooting scene and said he heard a fully automatic weapon fired Monday night. He said the noise was so rapid, he first thought it was fireworks.
Then he heard it again.
“You can’t pull a trigger that fast,” Meeks said.
Camaro Newsom, 46, lives on the same block where the teens were shot.
He was lying in bed when he heard several bursts of gunfire at about 9 p.m., followed by sounds of cars speeding away. He said he thought he heard two different guns.
“I figured somebody was just shooting,” Newsom said, adding that he frequently hears shots fired in the neighborhood. “A lot of people got guns around here.”
Red carnations were left at the crime scene Tuesday. Stapled to a pole was a paper sign with Paige’s Facebook photo and the words “Paige, we love you.”
Police describe the suspect as a black man, about 6 feet tall, wearing a black hat and army fatigues driving a tan vehicle, possibly a Cadillac.