GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN – Kent County Sheriff officials said a 16-year-old was being held in connection to McKenna Elizabeth Hilton’s death. Her body was found near Dean Lake Avenue and Interstate 96 Thursday, officials said.
A 16-year-old boy with no criminal record appeared in court Friday in connection to the death of a recent East Kentwood High School graduate.
The teen, who is not being identified, is being held as a suspect in the death of 18-year-old McKenna Hilton. He was in Kent County Family Court in handcuffs, sitting next to his mom as others sat behind them, some in tears.
The suspect and victim were friends on Facebook. A source close to the investigation said they had lived in the same household.
Investigators told 24 Hour News 8 the teenage suspect made a statement to police, but they are not disclosing what he said.
Thursday, a man walking his dog found Hilton’s body in the brush at Emerald Lake Drive and Valentine Street NE, not far from Dean Lake Avenue and I-96. Detectives believe she was killed elsewhere and her body was dumped there.
Investigators with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department believe Hilton was assaulted. They said they found injuries around her neck that suggest strangulation. However, they are waiting on autopsy results to confirm how she died.
Kentwood Public Schools confirmed Friday that Hilton graduated from their district in spring. The superintendent said Hilton was very active in school activities, including cheerleading.
“McKenna was an East Kentwood High School graduate and an outstanding person. Kentwood Public Schools is a close family built on strong positive relationships. We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our district crisis team will have counselors available today and Monday at East Kentwood High School for students and staff who need to talk. McKenna and her family are in our thoughts and prayers,” Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff said in a statement.
What isn’t clear yet is what led to Hilton’s death.
On Friday, a court referee gave prosecutors another five days to file charges against the 16-year-old, but the assistant prosecutor said she’s considering a charge of open murder. In the meantime, the referee ordered him held in juvenile detention.
On Friday and Monday, East Kentwood High School was making counselors available for students who wanted to grieve.
“I can’t believe this just happened because three months ago I was just in a class with her,” former classmate Cam Spicer said. “She was telling jokes, having class arguments. The loss is tremendous. … She was just an amazing person. Words can’t describe how well she treated people, how educated and well-spoken she was.”
“She didn’t deserve that,” Spicer continued. “Nobody does, but her especially.”
Tyrese Baker, a senior at East Kentwood High School, was in a musical and play with Hilton. He said she had a strong voice and a good sense of humor.
“We just laughed all the time, whether we’d go out to eat or just hang out, always just laughing all the time,” he said. “McKenna’s a really good person, that’s the only reason I came. I wanted people to know how good of a person she was.”
Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the Kent County Sheriff’s Department at 616.632.6357 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.