Mother in case of missing rappers: 'I don't know who to trust'
Lorrie Kemp on Wednesday, in her car, allowed herself to scream for the first time since her son's Jan. 21 disappearance.
"I don't know who to trust, I don't know who to believe — but I'm not going to stop," the mother said, almost crying.
"I'm angry. I'm mad. I'm getting tired."
Kemp, 58, of Oscoda, has put up scores of flyers for her missing son in Detroit, Warren, Oscoda and Lansing, where he grew up. She has kept every police report and takes notes on every conversation she has had with law enforcement regarding her son, Armani Kelly, 27, an Oscoda rapper who was meant to perform at a club in Detroit the night he went missing.
The show was canceled, and two others who were with him that evening — fellow rapper Dante Wicker, 31, of Melvindale, and friend Montoya Givens, 31, of Detroit — are also missing.
No one has reported seeing or hearing from the three men since the evening of Jan. 21. There has been no activity on their cellphones or social media accounts.
The car Kelly drove from Oscoda to Detroit was found in Warren and a juvenile suspected of stealing it was in custody, according to police.
It's an investigation law enforcement officials have characterized as alarming, rare and difficult. The search for the men has become a multi-agency investigation involving police departments in Detroit, Oscoda, Melvindale and Warren.
Detroit police on Monday called for help from the public — a week after Kemp on Jan. 23 reported Kelly missing and began spreading the word via social media and notifying news outlets. She said Detroit investigators first contacted her on Jan. 26.
Authorities have told the Free Press finding the men is a priority. Kemp fears her son's disappearance hasn't been taken seriously because of his criminal past and because he's Black and Latino. He served seven years in prison for a 2014 armed robbery, according to Michigan Department of Corrections records. Kemp called it a drug deal gone wrong. He was paroled in July 2022.
"Where were you when I needed you a week ago?" Kemp asked, her question directed toward police.
She said a Warren police officer at one point called her missing son a "felon, drug dealer and gangster." Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer cast doubt on the allegation, but said Kemp should file a complaint.
"Yes, my son was in prison. Yes, he did his time, he paid his dues," Kemp said. "But you're going to prosecute him until you put him on the cross? You can think he's disposable, but my baby is not disposable. He was a human being."
Questions abound in alarming case
Detroit Police Chief James White said Tuesday that homicide and missing persons investigators are working the case.
"We're looking at everything," he said.
Dwyer and Detroit Police Cmdr. Michael McGinnis noted how rare and alarming it is for three adult men to go missing at the same time. McGinnis said in most cases, adult men go missing on their own and are eventually found safe. Dwyer said in his over 50-year career in law enforcement, he has never heard of a case like this.
"This is very rare, to say the least," Dwyer said.
White said investigators believe Kelly, Givens and Wicker were together at Lounge 31 on Detroit's east side, where they planned to perform at some point that evening. What's unclear, he said, is what happened to them after they left.
Once Kemp spread word that Kelly was missing, the families of the other men realized they, too, hadn't heard from them and filed missing persons reports, McGinnis said.
Lounge 31 owner Darnell Williams told the Free Press the performances were canceled that night because of technical failures with the DJ equipment. He said there were too many people in the crowd to know whether or when the missing men were there, but that police were reviewing video footage.
The last time Kemp spoke to her son was about 5 p.m. on Jan. 21. He had called Kemp to let her know he made it to Detroit. Kelly's fiancee, Taylor Perrin, said the last time she talked to Kelly was also about 5 p.m. that day. Kelly told her the performance at Lounge 31 was canceled and he was going to try to find an open mic night to perform.
Music was everything to Kelly, Perrin told the Free Press.
"He wanted his music to blow up. He wanted to become something," she said.
Perrin said she texted Kelly around 7 p.m. No answer. At around 9 p.m., she tried again. The message didn't go through, she said. Perrin then called Kelly, and it went straight to voicemail.
Perrin and Kemp grew more concerned when he didn't come back home to Oscoda on Sunday, Jan. 22. By Monday, Kemp said, she contacted Detroit police and was instructed to filed a police report with the Oscoda Police, which she did.
Kemp has been desperately searching for her son since.
The vehicle Kelly drove to Detroit, a gray 2017 Chevy Equinox, was first traced on Jan. 23 to the Life Church in Warren using OnStar, according to a Jan. 24 Warren police stolen vehicle report obtained by the Free Press.
It's unknown why the vehicle was in Warren, or whether the three men had also been in Warren at some point the evening of Jan. 21.
Kemp, upset that the vehicle was not immediately impounded by police for evidence, said she went to check on the vehicle that day. Later on Jan 23., Kemp said she checked on the vehicle again, but it was gone. Kemp said the car was then traced to the Huntington Club Apartments in Warren.
The police report acknowledges officials in Oscoda, about 200 miles north, asked Warren police to check out the apartment complex.
By 9 a.m. on Jan. 24, it appears the vehicle was neither at the Life Church nor Huntington Club Apartments. According to the police report, OnStar informed Warren police that the vehicle had been on the move and parked in the 28300 block of Queens Court, where it was finally recovered.
A juvenile suspected of stealing the vehicle has been apprehended, but not yet charged, according to Dwyer.
Update: Dwyer on Thursday said the juvenile suspect has been charged with receiving and concealing stolen property. It was unclear when the charge was issued.
Mom suspects foul play in disappearance of 'ambitious, creative' son
Kemp calls herself a "mama bear." She fears the worst. She wants to bring him home, but in her gut, she feels like her son is dead.
Authorities haven't determined what happened to Kelly, Givens, or Wicker, but Kemp has her own theory. She believes her son was set up and killed because of gang-related retaliation from his time in prison. Kemp points to a Facebook Live video posted by her son on Jan. 19, where he talked about violence in the community and conflicts he has had with individuals inside and out of prison.
"This is foul play," Kemp said.
A message seeking comment was left with the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Kemp and Perrin described Kelly as ambitious, outgoing, funny and creative. In addition to rapping, he writes short stories, plays and films. Perrin said he has dreams of publishing a book and making a movie one day.
"I love his drive, his determination for things. He had a lot of goals for himself. And the love he gave to people. ... He's just a very bright person," Perrin said.
Kemp said her son was taking community college trade classes and was working in manufacturing in Oscoda.
"He had a future," she said.
Andrea Sahouri covers criminal justice for the Detroit Free Press. She can be contacted at 313-264-0442, email@example.com or on Twitter @andreamsahouri.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Mother in case of three missing rappers: 'I don't know who to trust'