CASSOPOLIS — Prosecutors say the brutal attack at Ameri-Kart in Cass County, Mich., on Wednesday that left a 24-year-old Elkhart dead was a planned attack carried out by an Elkhart gang member, prosecutors say.
William Henderson, 23, appeared before Cass County Judge Stacey Rentfrow for arraignment on Thursday, facing a charge of open murder. He was arrested at Ameri-Kart at 19300 Grange St. in Cass County's Mason Township on Wednesday moments after authorities say he stabbed Jan Carlos Velazquez Mendez in the neck, killing him.
During Thursday's hearing, prosecutors told the court that Henderson, whose listed address is on Stone Edge Drive in Elkhart, admitted to planning the attack "for a long time" as part of a scheme to join the "Murder Club" of the gang with which he is affiliated, our news partners at ABC57 reported. Henderson confessed to the killing during a police interview, authorities said.
Rentfrow denied bond for Henderson and ordered he remain in custody at the Cass County Jail, ABC57 reported. He is scheduled for a preliminary examination in two weeks, after which the judge will decide whether to schedule a trial for Henderson's case.
"He has acknowledged that he has gang affiliations with the folk nation and obviously that was part of the reasoning regarding bond in this matter," Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz told ABC57 after the hearing. "We're confident that justice will be done in this case not only for the community but for the family of the victim, which includes a significant other and one or more children."
Henderson, who had worked at Ameri-Kart for about two months, cried during Thursday's hearing and asked for forgiveness from Velazquez's family before Rentfrow advised him to remain silent, according to ABC57.
Henderson and Velazquez, who recently had moved to Elkhart from Puerto Rico, engaged in a physical altercation in the break room at Ameri-Kart around 5:25 a.m. Wednesday, police say. Henderson pulled out a knife and stabbed Velazquez in the neck in front of two coworkers.
Velazquez ran out of the break room after the attack and collapsed from his injuries. He was pronounced dead inside the plant after emergency crews from Edwardsburg and the Southeast Public Safety Authority attempted to revive him.
Coworkers restrained Henderson in another area of the plant until Cass County sheriff's deputies arrived and took him into custody.
If convicted, a charge of first degree murder in Michigan carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Meanwhile, Velazquez's family members thousands of miles away in Puerto Rico are left wondering why. His cousin Elisanet Perez-Velazquez told ABC57 Jan Carlos was a hardworking provider for his family.
“They’ve always worked. They’ve always worked all their life," Perez said. "I mean I can’t think of a moment – because we live in the country, we’re up here in the mountains and we work the land.”
Perez told ABC57 that Jan Carlos moved from Puerto Rico to take a job in Florida about a year and a half ago. He later moved to Elkhart and took the job at Ameri-Kart.
Perez said the family last saw Jan Carlos when he visited them in Puerto Rico for Christmas. Two weeks later they received the news of his death.
“This was like what, not even two or three weeks ago. And then this happens," Perez told ABC57. "He’s at work, he’s doing what he has to do. We’re not afraid of work, we’re hard working people.”
She said the family is struggling to make sense of his death.
“He went to work and we just couldn’t believe something like that would happen at work," Perez said. "I mean it’s not like he’s hanging out, it’s not like he’s out partying, it’s not like he’s looking out for trouble. He’s working. We all still can’t understand it. We’re trying to get a ‘why.’”
Jan Carlos' family is now scraping together money to plan a funeral for him in Puerto Rico, ABC57 reported. A date for the services is not available.