By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — An 18-year-old Benton Harbor High School student was found dead Thursday morning a few blocks from school.
Police say they were called at 7:15 a.m. after a Benton Harbor school bus driver spotted a body in the grass near the corner of Empire Avenue and McAllister Street. The student was identified as Grady Manns of Benton Harbor.
Mike Clark, deputy director of Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety, said he could not say what the cause or time of death was. Investigators are considering this a homicide as Manns was found under “suspicious circumstances,” Clark said.
“There have been no arrests made yet,” Clark said during a news conference Thursday afternoon near the scene. “Some individuals are being questioned. The investigation is ongoing.”
Clark said it is unknown if Manns died while on his way to school, but the time of death was between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
Benton Harbor High School is a few blocks west of where Manns was found. Police were still on scene after arriving four hours earlier, with Empire Avenue traffic being blocked from McAllister Street to LaFayette Avenue.
Manns’ body will be sent to Grand Rapids for an autopsy. Clark said they won’t know the cause of death until the autopsy is completed.
The high school and Manns’ family were notified once the body was identified. School officials said the high school was secured when police were called. However, students were not dismissed from class Thursday, contrary to other reports.
School reacts to death
According to a news release from the district, administration reached out to its students and staff to provide grief counseling and support.
“This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts ache for the Manns family,” BHAS Superintendent Shelly Walker stated in the release. “Our students and staff have had a very difficult day. Our teachers have lost a student, our students have lost their friend, and the Manns family has lost their son.”
To aid students and staff in their grief, the Berrien RESA Crisis Team was deployed to the high school to help counselors in providing grief support.
Walker addressed the student body during a Thursday assembly with the district’s administrative team. They told students and staff that they would have access to counseling services during school through the rest of the week.
“While we never want to experience such events, it is comforting to know that our district has such a tremendous network of resources all aimed at helping our students and teachers heal emotionally,” Walker said. “On behalf of everyone at BHAS, thank you for your support today.”
A letter was published on the district’s website letting parents know what the school was doing.
Consent Agreement Consultant Don Weatherspoon said he was at the scene by 9:30 a.m. and was impressed by how the community came together to support each other.
He said Mayor Marcus Muhammad and state Trooper Maurice Burton – along with area pastors and school staff – were at the scene discussing ways to avoid these types of tragedies.
“They were very calming influences on the crowd,” he said. “This underscores the need to talk about how we can serve our children better so they can have a brighter future.”
In addition to Benton Harbor, Berrien County Sherrif’s Department and state police were on scene for assistance.
Anyone with tips surrounding Manns’ death can call the city’s tip line at 927-0293 or Michiana Crime Stoppers at 1-800-342-STOP if you wish to remain anonymous.