Tragedies Tie Survivors Across Detroit City-Suburb Border

July 9, 2015 Updated: July 9, 2015

DETROIT—Residents and activists fanned out at a busy intersection on Detroit’s east side, blocks from where a suburban high school girl was gunned down in a car.

Chris Samuel was among those distributing posters about the December killing. He didn’t know Paige Stalker, but a similar tragedy ended up connecting him to the 16-year-old and her family: Just days after Paige’s slaying, Samuel’s 22-year-old daughter, Christina Samuel, was shot and killed in a car a few miles away.

Days after the shootings, Samuel was attending an event in his daughter’s memory when Paige’s grandfather, Dave Lawrence, approached him. The two men walked away from the crowd, shared words and a hug, and have supported each other since.

They have done more than console each other. They have launched a foundation with others aimed at establishing neighborhood groups and developing safety education programs.

Paige was white and from the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Farms. Christina was black and from a poorer area in the city of Detroit. But Paige’s grandfather and Christina’s father are focused on what their loved ones had in common and working to unite their communities in the wake of the deaths.

“Days go by — he’s my rock and I’m his,” Chris Samuel said. “We might be in different communities but our hearts are definitely the same. We’re grieving.”

Christina Samuel graduated with a criminal justice degree from Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne, where she regularly made the dean’s list. She was about to enter law school, and relatives say she wanted to work with juveniles to help rehabilitate them and keep them out of trouble.

Paige Stalker was a National Honor Society student with dreams of becoming a doctor. She contacted the University of Michigan to find out what she would need besides good grades to get into medical school. The university suggested volunteering, so she did — twice a week at a Grosse Pointe hospital that has since established a scholarship in her name for two volunteers each year who are interested in the medical field.

“They were pretty much identical — always willing to help others,” Samuel said.

He and Lawrence hope the foundation’s safety education programs will become mandatory for students. Lawrence said the lessons would include “common sense things,” such as don’t get in cars with strangers or let them in.

Both men acknowledge such lessons wouldn’t necessarily have saved their daughter and granddaughter.

Lawrence said Paige was planning to see a movie but her older sister wasn’t ready. While waiting with a friend, another friend called and asked for a ride. They picked up the girl, who was looking for her brother.

During the Dec. 22 drive, two boys “jumped in,” Lawrence said. The five drove to the corner of Philip and Charlevoix streets on Detroit’s east side. “As soon as they got there, a guy got out of a car and opened up,” he said.

“I can almost hear Paige when these people got in the car — ‘I don’t want to be here,'” Lawrence added. “She had no control over the situation.”

Christina Samuel was talking in a car with a 24-year-old friend she hadn’t seen since junior high school, her father said. Police have said they believe the man was the intended target. Christina was pronounced dead at a hospital less than an hour into Christmas Day.

No arrests have been made in either case, and Detroit police are not discussing details.

“Homicide investigators are following all leads that they have available to them,” Sgt. Cassandra Lewis said.

Chris Samuel and Lawrence credit police with keeping them updated despite no major breaks. Still, they are upset about what they consider a lack of cooperation from people who were in the cars.

But for every challenge, there’s progress. Like a new park that Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park have agreed to name after Paige and Christina where the two communities meet.

And the vigils and rallies where the men have teamed up since January are also bright spots — more opportunities for them to show solidarity.

“Anytime I’m out, Chris is there. Anytime we’re out for Christina, I’m there,” Lawrence said.

“The streets will tell us what we need to know — that’s where we’re going to get the information from,” Samuel said. “Our girls were innocent. We just need to know why.”