The Airport Sub neighborhood on Detroit’s east side is like a family. Everybody knows everybody, residents say, with aunts, uncles and cousins living on the same block or around the corner.
Neighbors pick up trash off the sidewalk. They mow the grass and weeds that grow in the alleyways between each other’s houses. The close-knit streets were quiet Thursday morning, a day after the news broke that the body of two-year-old Wynter Cole-Smith was found in a field near Irwin Avenue.
David Jones, who lives on nearby Edgewood Street, told BridgeDetroit Thursday he knew something was wrong when he saw about 30 FBI agents. At first, he thought somebody had been shot, but then learned of the discovery.
“I was done,” Jones said. “My heart was heartbroken. My youngest daughter is five years old, so I remember when she was two. She was full of life, walking, doing all types of things. So, if you were to drop a little girl off at two years old, that’s heartbreaking.”
Authorities began searching for Wynter July 2 after Rashad Maleek Trice allegedly stabbed the child’s 22-year-old mother multiple times in Lansing, police said. An Amber Alert was issued for Wynter in hopes of locating the girl and the 26-year-old suspect who police said took off in a white 2013 Chevrolet Impala.
Trice was arrested in St. Clair Shores on July 3 and police recovered the vehicle. The child however was not with him. Law enforcement partners teamed for door-to-door canvassing with the FBI near where Wynter went missing and conducted searches using K9s, drones and dive teams, with no success. At 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, FBI agents discovered Wynter’s body, Devin Kowalski, acting special agent in charge of the FBI Detroit field office, said at a Wednesday evening news conference alongside Detroit Police Chief James White.
Jones, 38, said he has lived in Airport Sub for most of his life. He moved back into his childhood home last year after his mother died and has family close by. Jones’ aunt lives next door and another aunt and uncle live down the street, he said.
“There really ain’t no crime over here,” he said. “There’ve been a few incidents due to people partying too much and alcohol involved, but it’s a pretty safe neighborhood.”
Jones said he hopes Wynter’s family stays strong during this difficult time.
“I don’t know how it feels to lose a child, so I can’t really relate to their pain,” he said. “All I can say is this; pray to God and take it day by day.”
Lawrence Jones, who is not related to David, said he also was shocked to hear the news.
“It’s sad,” the 65-year-old said. “I don’t know what the world is coming to.”
On Thursday evening, Detroit Pastor Maurice “Mo” Hardwick led a vigil near where Wynter was found.
Dozens of residents, anti-violence advocates, city leaders and Wynter’s grandfather gathered, clutching several clusters of purple, pink white and red balloons. Some were shaped like hearts or stars and others depicted characters like Baby Shark and displayed messages like “you will be missed” and “I love you.”
There was prayer, there was song, there were speeches and there was palpable frustration.
“Dear heavenly father, we come to you today as a family, as a city, in a state of mourning,” Hardwick shouted into a bullhorn, leading the group in prayer. “We come together God, in your name, in your power, for this family. “
Neighbors with children and with grandchildren and child welfare workers took turns, urging each other to stand together as one community, in the streets, working toward interventions to combat acts of community and domestic violence.
“On behalf of every parent, every grandparent, every uncle and auntie in Detroit, we are heartbroken,” added Hardwick, calling Trice a “weak, ignorant man.”
“We protect our women and our children. This is not us. This is not Black people. This is not Detroit.”
Following Hardwick was Tashina Jones, an Airport Sub resident who helped organize the vigil. As the mother of a daughter, she can’t imagine what Wynter’s mother is going through.
“This is the second baby within a matter of two weeks being killed,” she said. “What is going on in our society, in our home that kids are being taken away at an alarming rate? The kids are our future.”
Some of Wynter’s family members were also in the Thursday night crowd, such as the toddler’s grandfather, Almount Smith. He told BridgeDetroit he doesn’t know what or how to feel. The west side resident said with Wynter’s mom living in Lansing, he had not visited in a while.
Smith said his son, Almount Smith, Jr., and Wynter’s mother broke up around the time Wynter was born. The younger Smith moved to Tennessee to play football at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
“He worked so hard to get into college so he could get an education and play football and provide for him and his daughter,” the elder Smith said.
Even through the tragedy of losing his granddaughter, Smith appreciated the love and support. “It’s very sad when a community has to come together for this,” he said.
Later, Detroit City Councilman Coleman Young took a turn addressing neighbors.
“We have a family that lost a child. A mother that lost a daughter, a father that lost a daughter. Never will those parents see that child walk down the aisle. Never will those parents see that child become whatever it is that they were meant to be,” he said. “Snuffed out. And for what? The greatness of society is determined on how we treat our senior citizens and how we protect our children. Enough is enough. We are here to protect our babies.”
The vigil concluded with the group releasing balloons at Hardwick’s command, chanting “Whose baby? Our baby,” and clapping as they floated up into the sky.
Missing persons case in Lansing ends tragically in Detroit
Lansing Police Chief Ellery Sosebee said during a news briefing this week that Trice, who lives in Detroit, has friends and family in various cities across the state and that police had been trying to reach out to all of his known associates.
A spokesman for the Detroit Police Department told BridgeDetroit Thursday that DPD will continue to assist the FBI and Lansing Police Department, which are jointly leading the investigation.
Wynter’s mother was released from the hospital earlier this week and continues to recover from her injuries, Sosebee confirmed during a news conference.
Trice was arraigned Wednesday in 54-A District Court in Lansing on felony charges of assault with intent to murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree home invasion, unlawful imprisonment, aggravated domestic violence, second offense, unlawful driving away of an automobile and assault with a dangerous weapon, according to the court’s criminal division.
A probable cause conference is set for 8:30 a.m. July 13 with Judge Kristen D. Simmons. A preliminary hearing is set for July 20. The court had no further charges or arraignments scheduled for Trice as of 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
According to Michigan Department of Corrections records, Trice is on supervised probation through 2024. In 2021, he entered a plea and was convicted on charges out of Livingston County for assaulting, resisting and obstructing police, assault with a dangerous weapon and fleeing police, records show.
Maria Miller, a spokesperson for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, said Thursday that the office is not involved in any charging decisions at this time.
Kowalski said Wednesday evening that this was not the outcome the agency was hoping for and that their hearts go out to the family.
“Based on the information developed throughout this investigation, our teams were searching multiple areas across the state over and over again, specifically in the area adjacent to where we’re standing,” Kowalski said during the Wednesday evening news conference in the Airport Sub.
“This will be a thorough and deliberate crime scene investigation. It will take time to carefully collect evidence,” he added. “We need to help bring the person responsible to justice. We want to thank the community for all of their assistance in this investigation.”
He thanked Lansing, Eastpointe, St. Clair Shores and Detroit police departments, Ingham County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Detroit FBI field office for assisting.
“Please continue to keep the family in your thoughts and prayers,” he said.
In a Facebook post late Wednesday, Ingham County Prosecutor John J. Dewane said his office was “devastated” by the news of Wynter’s death.
“Our hearts are with Wynter’s family as they begin to process and grieve the unnecessary loss of a beautiful two-year old child,” he said.
“As this investigation transitions from a missing person to a homicide investigation, our office supports the efforts of our law enforcement partners at the state and federal level to hold those responsible for Wynter’s death accountable for their actions,” Dewane wrote.
Scott Hughes, a spokesperson for the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, said in an email Thursday that no further updates were available regarding criminal charges. He noted that the Lansing Police Department and FBI investigation is ongoing.
Jordan Gulkis, public information officer for the Lansing Police Department, said Thursday afternoon that no new information was available since the chief’s briefing Wednesday evening and that, as of now, no other media briefings are scheduled.
The Cole-Smith family released a statement Thursday, saying they are heartbroken over the loss of a “beautiful daughter, granddaughter, cousin, niece and big sister.”
“Wynter’s brief but bright life was taken from her unnecessarily; and we will grieve her death forever,” the statement reads.
The family is also seeking justice, asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state Legislature to ensure that violent offenders are kept in prison.
“In remembering Wynter, we believe it is necessary to help make sure that this kind of tragedy never again touches any other family,” they said in the statement.
‘Not walking alone’
Around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Sandra Swain arrived in the neighborhood. She made the drive down from Roseville and created a makeshift memorial under a speed hump sign on Irwin, covering it with pink and silver balloons, multi-colored pinwheels and flowers.
Swain, 56, said she and her husband moved to Roseville from Illinois last year and she doesn’t know anyone in Detroit. However, she felt like she had to do something.
“When I came out here this morning to see what happened, you couldn’t see anything,” she said. “I didn’t want people to be like me, coming out here and trying to pay respects and couldn’t see anything. So, I figured this would show them exactly where to go.”
Swain said she wanted to make sure the child’s family knows that people in metro Detroit are here for them and want to show their support.
A second vigil is planned for 6 p.m. at Knodel and Erwin, near First Church to the Redeemed, 9360 Van Dyke.
“I think when they (the family) visit this spot, it’s just gonna hit them 10 times even more and that’s where we come in, to rally around them, to let them know that they’re not walking alone,” Swain said. “We’re gonna walk with them.”
Christine Ferretti contributed to this report.