Tech CEO killed in Baltimore remembered as dedicated, compassionate entrepreneur

BALTIMORE (AP) — While Pava LaPere built a successful tech startup that earned her national recognition and local political clout, she remained laser focused on what motivated her from the beginning: forging connections, building community and using entrepreneurship to create meaningful social change.

In the days since her horrific death following what police believe was a random attack at her Baltimore apartment building, loved ones remembered LaPere as a bundle of energy and ambition with an unwavering belief in the human potential for positive change. At a vigil Wednesday evening, they challenged each other to live out her legacy through hard work and compassion.

The 26-year-old entrepreneur and recent Johns Hopkins graduate was reported missing shortly before her body was discovered late Monday morning with signs of blunt force trauma.

Now, her friends and family members are left trying to reconcile how she lived with how she died.

“She was so the antithesis of what happened to her,” her close friend Karina Mandell told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “That polarity, that’s what makes it so shocking.”

Police announced a suspect in the case Tuesday evening, saying local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are searching for Jason Billingsley, 32, who was paroled last October in an earlier sexual assault case. In an update Wednesday afternoon, police said Billingsley is also suspected in a rape, attempted murder and arson that occurred Sept. 19 in Baltimore.

As a college student, LaPere was heavily involved in efforts to expand opportunities for young entrepreneurs. She launched her own company, EcoMap Technologies, from her dorm room at Johns Hopkins.

She gave a TEDx talk on the university’s campus in 2019, describing her journey into the startup world and her vision for the future. She said she scrapped plans to become a doctor after news coverage of a car bombing in Syria opened her eyes to human suffering on a global scale; she wanted to affect systemic change, especially among underserved communities.

Loved ones said the same philosophy was at the heart of LaPere’s company, which uses technology to curate data and make information more accessible across social ecosystems. Their clients include Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and The Aspen Institute.

LaPere believed in conscious capitalism, an ethical approach to business that’s become more popular in recent years, and she prioritized diverse hiring practices; her employees were half women and half people of color.

Earlier this year, she was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for social impact. She recently posted on Instagram about growing EcoMap to a staff of 30 people and opening its offices in downtown Baltimore, the city she embraced after growing up in Tucson.

She was scrappy and stubborn, qualities that propelled her to success in a competitive environment where a large number of people with smart ideas are competing for funding from a relatively small pool of investors, loved ones said.

“She knew what she wanted to accomplish and there was nothing that would get in her way,” her father, Frank LaPere, told a crowd of over 100 people who gathered for the vigil.

Pausing often to regain his composure, he recalled how she would send the family pictures of Baltimore sunrises, remarking on the beauty around her well before most people were awake. She worked around the clock and found joy in the process.

“She saw things that no one else saw,” said Sherrod Davis, a Baltimore native and co-founder of EcoMap. “She saw a new Baltimore, not one that was riddled with crime and destitution, but one that was a symbol for prosperity and innovation — one that took people from every community and connected them to what they needed when they needed it.”

He said LaPere’s energy was contagious and she “had a way of convincing you that you had to hear what she had to say.” She also had a way of making people feel special because she had more than enough confidence and determination to go around, he said.

“When the world told her no, for this reason or that reason, she refused to accept it,” he said. “She didn’t stop. She endured. She pressed on.”

Before closing the vigil, LaPere’s loved ones let out a collective scream.

“Look out into this crowd tonight, and we can see it. Pava woke up every day with the belief that … we have the power to ignite change — and that Baltimore and the world would be stronger, fairer and better connected as a result,” said Jamie McDonald, CEO of UpSurge Baltimore, another local startup. “Together we can show the world that she was right.”