Taylor Mueller ‘16 – Living in a small town often constitutes a sheltered life. One becomes accustomed to the patterns and routines that revolve around suburban living, like waking up, heading to work or school, and coming home to dinner with the family. Life runs smoothly, the common problems will work themselves out in time. Living with this sense of naivety and innocence, it is only natural to sometimes forget or fail to understand that the world can be harsh. That is, until reality sets in and shatters the safe haven of a small town.

On July 28th, the body of April Millsap was found in Armada on the commonly used Macomb Orchard Trail, which also runs through the neighboring towns of Richmond and Romeo. The 14-year-old Armada resident left her house around dinnertime with her Border Collie, Penny, just like she did almost every night. She was reported missing by her family when she didn’t return home after a few hours had gone by. Millsap’s body was found in a drainage ditch just off the trail around 8:20 that evening by a few joggers. Police hunted for answers; the FBI was called in to search homes in Armada, looking for any evidence or explanation. The town of Armada, and surrounding communities, were in a state of shock. No one could even begin to imagine that something this tragic and dangerous could occur in the “safe” place they call home. After 11 long weeks of investigation, on October 8th, 32-year-old James VanCallis was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, felony murder, and assault with intent to commit sexual assault.

“I was so shocked. I never imagined that this could happen to someone so close to my age, and so close to my town,” said Emma Giles ‘16. “Her story really hit home for me, I now think twice about going out alone and it made me realize how careful I have to be wherever I go at all times.”

Cases similar to April’s cover the news and appear on Dateline frequently, yet people are surprised when it happens in their town. The fact of the matter is this: being attacked by a sexual predator can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

Mother of 4, Polly Wilson, also shared her thoughts on the attack.

“My thoughts when I found out about April was sadness for her and her family, and then sheer panic that someone was out there randomly targeting our children,” Wilson stated. “My family and I use that trail to run and ride our bikes. My security that all is safe on the trail was now dismantled, as a parent, I had to batten down the hatches; no one on that trail alone ever. I questioned every odd looking vehicle, we took precautions. I realized that we can never take safety for granted. We do not have to live in fear but we do have to be aware of our surroundings; our guard is up.”

It’s easy to have the common mindset of “that could never happen to me.” It may seem rare, but according to RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network), an American is being sexually assaulted every two minutes. Sexual assault is a very real and serious issue. Assault may be difficult to prevent, yet there are ways to better prepare yourself should you face such a threat. Being educated in self defense could be the difference between assault or escape. For more information on self defense and protection look for part two of this three part series on sexual assault, self defense tactics, and date rape.

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