Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a factual error. The date of death was previously listed as Dec. 25, 2020.
Casey Willis, an 18-year-old Wayne State University freshman psychology major, died on Dec. 26, 2020. She is remembered as a role model to many and someone who continued to find ways to support those in need.
Willis was killed in a shooting while sitting in her friend’s car in Detroit, according to Local 4.
Willis had a niche for helping people – especially young women, her mother Carol Bush said. Bush instilled the importance of volunteer work, taking her daughters with her to volunteer at various places when they were young.
Bush said she used to come home from her college psychology class and discuss “how educational it was” with her daughters, sparking Willis’s interest in psychology early on. Studying psychology made Bush feel more connected to her family.
In 2017, Willis began volunteering for Alternatives For Girls, said Sandra Ramocan, the AFG director of Outreach and Education Services.
AFG is a social service non-profit agency that has been around for over 30 years, Ramocan said. The organization works to provide preventative services to unhoused and at-risk girls and women.
Volunteering for AFG encouraged Willis to major in psychology, Bush said. That is where she started learning what she wanted to do with her life: help young women.
“Casey was one of our peer educators,” said Candice Woods, the youth program outreach manager at AFG.
As a peer educator, Willis spoke with community members about making safe choices through workshops on homelessness, teen pregnancy, STDs and more, Woods said. Peer educators also tutor their peers, helping them stay on track and build leadership qualities.
“Casey had a determination to make a difference for her peers and a determination to accomplish her goals,” Ramocan said. “She really wanted to help others.”
Willis was accepted on the AFG Board of Directors after an opportunity arose for youth members to join the board, Ramocan said. Willis’s decision to join the board meant that she would have to give up being a peer educator. Peer educators get a stipend, while serving on the board is voluntary and unpaid.
Willis only served on the board for three months before she passed away.
Willis also worked at Footlocker, where she had recently been promoted, said Lateshia Parker, the marketing and communications manager at AFG. On Jan. 31, Footlocker donated gift cards, in honor of Willis, to the more than 150 girls and young women in AFG.
“Some of them actually went into the store on Sunday and did a shopping experience with Casey's family,” Parker said.
Matt Lockwood, director of Communications at WSU, said Willis’s tragic death occurred when the university was closed over the holidays.
President M. Roy Wilson and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Stephanie Hartwell reached out to Bush to offer their condolences and support, Lockwood said.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with her family and friends,” he said.
Counseling and Psychological Services is available to any member of the WSU community who needs to talk, Lockwood said.
A memorial fund for Willis can be found here.
Nour Rahal is news editor at The South End. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo of Casey Willis provided by Carol Bush.