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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2011

Justice for Lativia?

75¢

FAMILY CRIES TEARS OF JOY WHEN POLICE ANNOUNCE ARRESTS IN 1993 SLAYING BY JOHN TUNISON AND BARTON DEITERS THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS

GRAND RAPIDS — In the living room of a relative’s home, Rochelle Johnson and her children shared memories of the daughter and sister they only knew as a child. Even at 8 years old, Lativia Johnson

Lativia Johnson

talked about wanting to be a veterinarian. She adored her pet rabbit, Snowball, and her dog. But the little girl never got the chance to grow up. In 1993, Lativia was killed when someone fired a shot through a window at the family’s Ionia Avenue SE home. The circumstances of the second-grader’s death — she was walking

to the refrigerator for a glass of milk when she was fatally shot — sparked outrage in the community at a time when the city’s murder rate already was high. After 17 years, Rochelle Johnson is confident justice is near now that police have told her they cracked the cold-case homicide of her daughter. Tears flowed as she was overwhelmed

by emotion Thursday. “It seems like tears just keep coming. I’m just so joyful,” said Johnson, who added she always hoped someone would be arrested for the crime. “I still can’t even eat. It’s like I’m still in shock.” Prosecutors have issued a warrant for the extradition of 36-year-old

SEE LATIVIA, A2

EDUCATION OFFICIALS CRY FOUL TO CUTS PROPOSED IN GOV. RICK SNYDER’S BUDGET

Sorry, schools, you were warned

Local school chiefs react

First alarm sounded in 2004; changes should have begun two years ago

Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor: “I don’t know how it can be said that this is shared sacrifice when you hold harmless adults and take away resources from children.”

E

ducators are standing at the edge of a financial cliff they’ve known was coming for more than two years — and did little to prepare for this day. Now, will the deep cuts called for by Gov. Rick Snyder force school officials to recast a system that some say is long overdue for an overhaul? Or will parents be threatened with larger class sizes and the loss of art, music, sports and busing — as in the pre-Proposal A millage battles before 1994 — as districts fight to continue as they have, but with far less money? Tom Watkins, the former state superintendent who warned of an impending budget meltdown as long ago as 2004, said schools should use this time to make bold changes. The state’s educational establishment has frittered away a two-year head start handed to it by the federal government through billions of stimulus dollars, followed by millions in “edujobs” money, he

Forest Hills Superintendent Dan Behm: “There is no way to insulate students from the pain this budget will inflict, if approved.”

DAVE

MURRAY ON EDUCATION said. “I actually think the stimulus money was a disservice to the districts. All it did was postpone the day of reckoning,” he said. “A lack of money forces people to innovate. When they have resources, they just look for ways to perpetuate what they already have. They will protect the status quo.” Despite the reprieve, Watkins said the schools refused to make structural changes, expecting there would be yet another bailout or tax increase. Watkins sounded the alarm in December 2004 by pointing out that for every $300 of new per-student funding, $250 of it is eaten up by increases in retirement and health care costs. Those expenses would continue, he then noted, even as school revenue from sales taxes were to begin sliding. He called that report “a call for dialogue, input and action,” but the eventual action was to have SEE MURRAY, A2

TRACKING THE STORY Budget reactions

Rockford Supeintendent Michael Shibler: “How are we ever going to be able to improve where we need when have cuts proposed like this?”

More on Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget plans:

AP PHOTO

Making his point: Gov. Rick Snyder presents his budget proposal during a joint House and Senate committee meeting Thursday in Lansing.

Ê Snyder’s sweeping fiscal blueprint relies on just three pieces of legislation that aim to upend the way business is done in the Capitol. A6 Ê Educators shudder at deep cuts in state aid. A6 Ê Reaction from West Michigan lawmakers. A6 Ê Plans to end film tax credits means “killing the creative class in Michigan,” an industry advocate says. A8

Experimental device keeps the music playing Symphony member’s heart incident shows tiny mechanism’s worth BY JEFFREY KACZMARCZYK THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS

GRAND RAPIDS — Michael Crawford was on stage at Muskegon’s Frauenthal Center, playing one of the toughest solos for double bass in the orchestral repertoire, when he came to a brief pause and felt vibrations

©2011, The Grand Rapids Press

Going strong: Michael Crawford, middle, a double bassist for the Grand Rapids Symphony, practices Wednesday at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids. Crawford uses an experimental heartmonitoring device called AngelMed Guardian System, which indicates if a heart attack may be about to occur in high-risk patients.

near his inner tuxedo pocket where he might carry his cell phone. It wasn’t a well wisher in the West Michigan Symphony audience, calling to congratulate him for his solo in Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite. It was a tiny monitor, implanted in his chest, warning him his heart was in trouble. Crawford, 53, finished the solo, put his double bass down, walked off stage and called 911. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God,’” he recalled. “I didn’t know how long it had been going off.” If it didn’t exactly save his life, the

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A2

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2011

THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS

LATIVIA SUSPECTS FACE EXTRADITION FROM ILLINOIS, NEBRASKA CONTINUED FROM A1

Test case: Michael Crawford, a double bassist with the Grand Rapids Symphony, uses an experimental heart monitoring device called AngelMed Guardian System, which earlier this month helped alert Crawford during a musical performance, which he left to seek medical attention.

DEVICE

ABOUT 150 PEOPLE ARE IN TRIAL CONTINUED FROM A1

COURTESY PHOTO

Coin-sized: The AngelMed Guardian System is implanted in the chest and monitors heart activity, alerting the patient and doctors if a problem arises.

lesson at Grand Rapids Community College when he suddenly doubled over with what felt like indigestion, except he also was sweating profusely. He called an ambulance, which transported him to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. In the emergency room, his heart stopped because of a blockage that later was removed and a stent inserted. “It’s called a widow maker,” Crawford said. “I felt I was very lucky to survive.” The clinical study is expected to continue for another two to three years before it moves on to the next stage in the approval process. Wohns is optimistic it eventually will be approved. “Perhaps one day, this will be available to people who are high risk,” he said. Crawford, who returns to the stage tonight — the first time since the incident — with the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Performance Hall, is grateful for the tiny device that is no larger than 2 centimeters wide and 4 or 5 millimeters thick. “Without it, I could have had a heart attack on stage if I had kept playing,” he said. “Who knows?” E-mail: jkaczmarczyk@grpress.com

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After all that time: “Happy tears,” said a teary-eyed Rochelle Johnson after Grand Rapids Police told her they believe they have solved the 1993 shooting murder of her 8-year-old daughter, Lativia.

leads and even convened a grand jury to look into the case. For a long time, it was assumed the shooting was related to the gang violence plaguing the city’s Southeast Side at the time. Roshnna Johnson, Lativia’s sister, said she was questioned at one time about possibly being the target of the shooting. She was only 14 then and said she never knew any reason why someone would fire into their house. Michigan State Police criminal records show Brown’s only offense was a guilty plea in a 1996 attempted larceny from a building in Wyoming. Gaines had a 1994 guilty plea to misdemeanor retail fraud in Rockford District Court and a 1997 guilty plea to larceny in a building in Grand Haven Circuit Court. Nonteria Raybon, another sister of Lativia, said she cannot imagine how the two suspects lived their lives the past 17 years, apparently without remorse, knowing an 8-yearold girl had died. Raybon was in the house when her sister was shot. “They have been living all of these years, not caring how (Lativia’s) family felt. They’ve been living a lie in their lives,” she said. “What have they told their kids, if they have them?” she asked. “I wonder what their

CONTINUED FROM A1

him nudged out of his job after the outcry. “The new governor realizes the mission is to educate, not perpetuate,” Watkins said Thursday. “He is interested in funding learning that will make us competitive on the world stage. Doing what we always have done has not gotten us where we need to go.” Now that the safety net has been removed, educators might be forced to accept radical changes. And they might prefer to create changes on their own instead of having lawmakers thrust reforms upon them. That’s not working out too well in Wisconsin, where schools in some cities closed this week because employees left to protest bills that would strip teacher unions of their ability to negotiate. Michigan will spend $12.2 billion on K-12 education, $1.4 billion for

universities and $269 million on community colleges. If we took that money and could start from scratch, would we design a system with 550 school districts and more than 200 charter schools? Would you have a county with 19 superintendents and about as many food service directors, business managers and transportation directors? Would you slice Wyoming into five districts, or carve a wealthy enclave out of Grand Rapids Public Schools? State taxpayers could save $612 million a year after three years — all without closing a school — by consolidating districts around county lines, according to a Michigan State University study commissioned by The Press and its sister newspapers. A shared services model that puts all public school transportation, food service and operations and maintenance at the county

MICHIGAN LOTTERY

Here are the results from Thursday: Midday Daily 3: 284 Midday Daily 4: 9326 Daily 3: 793 Daily 4: 2122 Fantasy 5: 7, 25, 33, 36, 38 Keno: 2, 4, 6, 10, 13, 25, 34, 36, 44, 46, 49, 50, 51, 55, 65, 67, 68, 70, 72, 75, 77, 79 Today’s Fantasy 5 jackpot is worth $100,000. Today’s Mega Millions jackpot is worth $52 million. Saturday’s Classic Lotto 47 jackpot is worth $2.8 million. Saturday’s Powerball jackpot is worth $126 million.

COURTESY PHOTO

All those years ago: Lativia Johnson, pictured at a birthday party, was shot and killed in 1993 as she went to the refrigerator in her home to get a glass of milk.

friends and family will say when they find out.” Rochelle Johnson said she is excited and nervous about the arrests. She had not heard the suspects’ names as of late Thursday. “It’s kind of scary, whether I know them or their families,” she said. Her family plans to release a balloon into the air in Lativia’s honor in front of the Ionia Avenue SE home where she died. Roosevelt Gaines, an uncle of one suspect, described the allegations as shocking. He learned his nephew was arrested at his brother’s Illinois home on Wednesday. “I didn’t know anything

about this. It shocked me to death,” he said. He said his nephew worked through a temporary employment service at a tire manufacturer and is the father of one child. He said his nephew generally was quiet. “I’ve never known him to be in trouble, except for child support,” he said, describing how Robert Lee Gaines helped to care for his partially disabled father. The suspect and his family once lived in Grand Rapids with his family, but it wasn’t clear when they moved out of state. E-mail: localnews@grpress.com

MURRAY ‘THE NEW GOVERNOR REALIZES THE MISSION IS TO EDUCATE’ level would save $328 million, the researchers determined. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has called for districts to start looking for more ways to share services, and some expect to see incentives — or mandates — from Snyder when he pitches his local government and education plans later in the spring. Kent County schools have taken some limited steps, including one superintendent covering two districts and others sharing some business services. But districts are reluctant to go much further, either fearing the political fallout or stating the potential savings are “exaggerated.” “You can consolidate all you want, and you’re not going to come close to the kinds of dollars we’re

talking about here,” Kent Intermediate School District Superintendent Kevin Konarska said. Konarska called Snyder’s plan “over the top” and said state schools already have hacked millions from their budgets in the past five years. But Watkins said the hacking came without real changes. Schools won’t have a choice now, and they’ve wasted two years that could have been spent preparing for today. “It is time for educators at every level to step up, innovate to educate and place teaching, learning and children ahead of power, control, politics and adults,” he said. “Change has arrived. It is called Governor Synder.” E-mail: dmurray@grpress.com

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AngelMed Guardian System device implanted in his chest minimized the damage that might have been done. “It did what it was supposed to do,” Crawford said. “I didn’t have a heart attack, but I was on the edge.” Crawford, who also has been a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony for more than 20 years, is part of a clinical trial, seeking FDA approval for the experimental device created by Angel Medical Systems, of Shrewsbury, N.J. Crawford is one of 18 people enrolled at Spectrum Health’s Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, and among 140 to 150 people nationwide. “It’s potentially paradigmchanging technology,” said David Wohns, a cardiologist at the hospital. The device, which has a wire implanted into the wall of the heart, operates like a continual eletrocardiogram, monitoring and recording heart functions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The unit told doctors Crawford’s heart rate had shot up to 167 beats per minute as he was performing Feb. 4 in Muskegon. Bad weather and car trouble the day before led Crawford to miss two doses of medication that contributed to the rapid heart rate he experienced during the performance. But the device told Crawford to seek treatment, and it told his doctors exactly what had happened and when. “We know some people, even before the heart attack, can have EKG findings that are the forerunner to the actual heart attack occurring,” Wohns said. “Earlier treatment saves lives and saves heart muscle.” A little more than a year ago, Crawford found that out first hand. In early February last year, he was teaching a double bass

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Robert Lee Gaines and 38-yearold Robert “Bobby” Brown for the Dec. 16, 1993, shooting death. The Grand Rapids Police Department was to hold a press conference today to discuss the investigation that led to the arrests. According to an affidavit seeking the arrest of the two men — who were teenagers in 1993 — Brown had reported being robbed near the Hall Street Party Store, 110 Hall St. SE. Brown allegedly met with his friend, Gaines, and the two came to believe the robbery somehow involved people at 1150 Ionia Ave. SE, where the little girl lived with her mother and siblings, according to Grand Rapids Major Case Team Sgt. Chris Postma, who obtained the arrest warrant in Grand Rapids District Court this week. According to the affidavit, Grand Rapids Police, with the assistance of the Kent County Metro Cold Case Team, gathered evidence from witnesses and recorded conversations from at least one of the defendants, who made incriminating statements linking the two to the shooting. Postma said Brown confessed to the shooting and Gaines told witnesses he was there with Brown when it occurred. As she fought back tears after meeting with Grand Rapids detectives Thursday, Rochelle Johnson talked about living the past 17 years without her daughter. “They took our life from us,” Johnson said of the suspects, describing the years of stress and turmoil that followed Lativia’s death. Johnson said the same night her child died, the family moved out of the Ionia Avenue house forever. Only hours earlier, they had been decorating for Christmas. On Thursday, Johnson and her six children knew little about the alleged motive behind the shooting. The details would come later — now they simply were celebrating. Her daughter has remained in her thoughts over the years, particularly on holidays and when her March birthday comes around. “I’m so glad justice has come,” she said. Police say Gaines will be extradited from Illinois and Brown from Nebraska, where they are in custody. Police followed numerous

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