On July 24, 2014 April Dawn Millsap did something women and girls all over the world do every day. The 14-year-old took her dog for a walk on a popular hiking trail. The trail she chose was the Macomb Orchard Trail in Michigan, a 23.5 mile trail with one end about 26 miles from Detroit’s city limits. The other end was one mile from April’s family home.
Some time after she left home, April texted her boyfriend “OMG…I think I’m being kidnapped.”
When April didn’t return from walking the dog, her mother reported her missing. Her body was found by two joggers soon after.
Police were able to use a fitness tracking app April had on her phone, combined with Google Earth, to show her last movements before she died. They believe April was attacked with a motorcycle helmet. The assailant then pulled her off the Macomb Orchard Trail and 15-20 feet into the surrounding woods where he stomped her to death in Jordan Flight the Power shoes. After murdering April, he removed her clothing and planned to rape her body. However, because the trail was busy, he instead got on his motorcycle and simply drove away.
April’s border collie, Penny, tried protect her. After April died, Penny sat with her body until it was discovered. Penny continues to live with April’s family and participates in memorials for April like the April Millsap Memorial Garden.
The pathologist who performed April’s autopsy counted 48 injuries. Her face, neck and upper chest were covered in shoe prints where her assailant had repeatedly stomped on her. She also had blunt force trauma from being hit with a motorcycle helmet. She died as a result of the blunt force trauma and asphyxiation, as the killer stood on the 14-year-old’s neck.
James VanCallis, 34, was arrested and eventually convicted of first-degree murder for the death of April Millsap. First-degree murder means that the jury unanimously agreed that VanCallis had premeditated the events of July 24, 2014, even if April herself was a victim by chance. VanCallis had gone to the Macomb Orchard Trail that day with the intention of murdering a woman or child. In addition to first-degree murder, VanCallis was also convicted of kidnapping and attempted sexual penetration. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His appeal was denied.
VanCallis’ girlfriend of nine years said on the day April was murdered, he came home with bloodstained clothing and shoes. She found bloody grass and hair in his sweatshirt pocket. Later, the clothing and shoes “disappeared”. VanCallis also told his girlfriend at that time he had “messed up” and he “needs her to stand by his side”.
When searching VanCallis’ computer, investigators found he had been searching for “how to attract younger women”, “how to make a girl that does not want you to want you”, and “why does this girl ignore me.”
April’s mother told VanCallis after his conviction: “I hope those steel bars are your only friends. I hope when you close your eyes you see only April, over, and over, and over again…I hope that the inmates know exactly what you did, because I hear their punishment can be very ugly.”