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Posted on Wed, May 9, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

West Willow residents take to the streets after shocking sexual assaults

By Kyle Feldscher


A parent walks children home from the bus stop Wednesday afternoon. It wasn't an unusual sight after the sexual assaults on young girls before school Wednesday.

Melanie Maxwell |

Previous story: Willow Run schools respond to Wednesday's sexual attacks by putting staff on patrol

The parents of West Willow walked home from school Wednesday.

They walked through the rain. They walked past teachers. They walked past the superintendent. They walked past news vans. And, the whole time, they walked with their children right by their sides.

The reason: They were scared after police took three separate sexual assault reports early Wednesday.

Cry Johnson, who lives just down Chevrolet Street from where a girl was sexually assaulted by a man who approached her on a bicycle, said she walked her daughter, Lashawn Johnson, home from the bus stop and would walk her to and from the bus stop until the man is caught.

Lashawn, a Willow Run High School student, said she saw the first assault take place while she was getting ready for school. Even though they live in a neighborhood that’s no stranger to dangerous incidents, both of them said the three assaults Wednesday morning had put fear into their hearts.

“I’ve been here for like 26 years,” Cry Johnson said. “This is unusual because we’ve got school kids walking through here. I heard her screaming and I called the police and they came right on out.”

Deputies reported a 17-year-old girl was approached from behind by a man who had rode past her on a bike. The man put his hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming and used his other hand to grope her crotch, letting her go when she bit his hand and ran back to her nearby home.

The concern for students was evident in the demeanor of some parents, who took it upon themselves to walk other people’s kids home when their parents weren’t able to make it. On almost every block surrounding the intersection of Chevrolet Street and Studebaker Avenue, there were groups of people walking home with children.

Lashawn said she saw the girl’s father chase the man, who pulled away from him on his bicycle. Just minutes later, the man supposedly groped an 11-year-old girl, who reported the assault to deputies while they responded to the original complaint.

Deputies were notified of a third incident — an attempted kidnapping of another 11-year-old girl — near Nash Avenue and Dodge Court while they began investigating the first two reports.

The man is also believed to have committed a similar sexual assault on a young girl near State Street and McCartney Avenue, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Derrick Jackson.

In an area where residents might have thought they had seen it all, shock was the prevailing emotion.

“Stuff happens here. But, this? No,” Lashawn said.

Former West Willow resident Darrell Sheffield, who was dropping his 6-year-old daughter off at his aunt’s home Wednesday afternoon, said he was caught off guard by the fact that the original assault happened just houses down from where his daughter would be staying Wednesday evening.

Sheffield left the neighborhood in 1983 and he’s aware the neighborhood has gained a reputation for crime in recent years. Still, the reports “amazed” him.

“I didn’t know it happened here. I had read that it happened in Ypsilanti, but I’m amazed,” he said.

While police continue to search for the man — described as black, medium complexion, with blotchy and patchy hair, wearing a black and white striped hooded sweatshirt and red shorts — members of the Willow Run Community Schools took to the streets to make sure their students got home safely.


Willow Run Community Schools transportation supervisor Debra Payne talks with superintendent Laura Lisiscki as they patrol bus stops within the West Willow neighborhood on Wednesday.

Melanie Maxwell |

There were posts of teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, staff members and even superintendent Laura Lisiscki on streets around the neighborhood Wednesday afternoon. Despite the at-times heavy rain, they stood under their umbrellas and spoke with parents and students alike as they got off buses and made their way to their homes.

Staff members worked in two shifts, with one group standing guard from 2-3:15 p.m. and the other working from 3:15-4 p.m. Lisiscki said their presence seemed to reassure students and parents that no other student would fall victim during the afternoon.

“They’ve been happy to see us,” she said.

“There’s been a lot of parents coming by, they’ve been walking the kids home. There’s been a lot of parents on the porch and saying hello to us and thanking us for being out here and just having their eyes on the kids.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Thu, May 10, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office released pics here:


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

Side bar: I am proud to see these parents taking care of their children


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

Debra Payne will make absolutely sure every child is safe. I know her. Great lady. As for the attacks? Us drivers are aware and will keep vigil. Stay safe out there.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

This is how a community should act, but why the outrage now? Where are all the people when there is ongoing arsons, murders, assaults, robberies, burglaries, drug deals, fights, etc. How about being proactive instead of being reactive


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 9:48 a.m.

what has the world came to , to attack kids , children who are defensless , come on we need tougher laws to take these kind of people out , dont let child predators out , they will always fall off the wagon and repeat their sick demented ways . i would have shook the fathers hand if he would have caught the guy , even tho i can imagine the out come would have been bad for the perp but then again he deserves what ever the legal system or street justice would have gave him


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 3:38 a.m.

Another MPRI success story?


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 2:57 a.m.

In the midst of such a negative incident so much positive shining through. Mrs. lisiscki is a wonderful community leader and continues to demonstrate her dedication to our youth. Thanks WR staff. It would be great to have school staff coming to neighborhoods proactively. I wonder how many parent teacher conferences would take place and how much better they would be if these visits were done every so often.

Ben Petiprin

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 2:33 a.m.

Didn't they recently put up a bunch of cameras all throughout West Willow? Check the feed!


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

No there are only 2 or 3 at the entrances/exits of the neighborhood. I'm sure it has already occurred to them to check; but given the man was on a bike, it's likely he lives in the neighborhood and would not have been seen coming or going.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 1:17 a.m.

I commend the girl's father for trying to catch the perp - fight back! Too bad he got away ... I'm actually surprised the close call didn't stop him from trying to assault others.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

WTG WILLOW RUN... In ur eye all you naysayers.. Now if we can just get this guy..


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

This is very sad to hear. Ann Arbor catches so much flack for what people perceive is a lack of police force, when in reality people should be calling for better policing in the Ypsilanti area. Compared to Ann Arbor, their police department is a joke (though Ypsilanti is much smaller in various ways). The crimes in Ypsilanti can be deterred if more police check trouble spots in Ypsilanti, and that in turn could curb some crime in Ann Arbor as well. So sad to hear this, I hope people keep their eyes open and catch these criminals.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Ypsilanti I think has more Neighborhood Watch Patrols then Ann Arbor does. Our streets are safe because we keep 911 on alert. Use our CAT teams to keep them in the know. Glad to hear West Willow is keeping vigilant. Vigilantes we are not, but will be to keep our children safe.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

Why try to make this about AA being better than Ypsi (Ypsi Township)? How petty, especially with the predator still on the loose. Armchair policing at its finest!


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:54 a.m.

have you ever been to west willow? wcsd patrols regularly and has a great presence in ypsi township. i think they do the best they can. they've always had great response time when i've had to call (which has been more times than i care to say). they are in the area on the watch but they obviously can't be everywhere at once and obviously wouldn't see every man on a bike.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:45 a.m.

how often is it really patrolled!


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:17 a.m.

This was the township.. it's patroled by the sheriff dept.


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

When crazy things like this happen, it is the perfect time for a neighborhood to come together. That is what a neighborhood is supposed to be. Kudos to WW - and I hope this guy is caught and these children can feel safe again.


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

Sickening. I hope that so called man is caught soon. Go West Willow! What a great idea. Constant vigilance!! I hope all the children are briefed about how to get away from someone like that.


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

"who pulled away from him on his bicycle." I have heard of get away cars but a get away bike? Times are tuff I guess?


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:43 a.m.

Times are really bad!


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 10:16 p.m.

Let's please NOT blame Ypsi for this. The parents in this shocking situation are obviously frightened for their own and all kids' safety. These are decent people, worried parents: still in the majority in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor community and still deserving of our sympathy, understanding and support. Lets also be on the alter and be ready to report to the police anything relevant they may use to capture that horrible human predator. If anyone knows or thinks they know this man: please contact police immediately. The police simply MUST capture this guy.

Monica R-W

Wed, May 9, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

This is how a strong community quickly will defend against a sick, demented individual who makes attempt to attacks our precious children. Good job West Willow! But, this is not surprising as W.W. is beautiful, proud Ypsilanti Township community that sticks together!

Sarah Rigg

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

I live in West Willow, and that's my impression, too. We have some problems here, but neighbors look out for each other.