BAMN activist Joe Wagner was stabbed in Detroit two weeks ago and died the following day from his wounds.
Wagner, 21, was dancing at a fundraiser for Holy Redeemer Catholic Church on Saturday, June 18. After leaving his friends to get a drink, Wagner was surrounded by five men, according to witnesses. No words were exchanged in the encounter, and Wagner sustained a stab-wound that left him staggering and unaware of what had transpired.
“Joe didn’t know anything happened to him,” said Donna Stern, a Midwest coordinator for BAMN who recounted what a witnesses told her. “He went up to his friend and said he thought he’d been punched, and then his friend saw blood and Joe collapsed.”
Wagner was transported to Henry Ford Hospital where he died 11 hours later.
Stern said that witnesses said the attackers were all wearing red shirts — leading some to think the stabbing may have been gang-related.
“It’s possible. We’re exploring that avenue to see if that’s gang-related,” Detroit Police Department spokesman Sgt. John Claybourne said. “We’ve heard that several perpetrators were there but we can’t confirm (their) race or dress.”
No arrests have been made in the case, but Claybourne said the police are investigating some leads and requesting that witnesses who may have seen anything speak to the police.
Stern said the fundraiser did not seem dangerous at all, as it was filled with music, dancing patrons and parents with their children.
“I would have sent my daughter to it without hesitation,” Stern said.
Wagner graduated from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School in 2002 and moved to Detroit to continue his work with BAMN, an organization that seeks to defend affirmative action. When he was not canvassing around the state, he was speaking to high school students in Detroit — a group of people he uniquely identified with.
“He made a real connection with high school students. He had struggled with a learning disability all his life — he had a real sense of how people could be underestimated and how they could contribute. He was very passionate about affirmative action … he viewed an attack on affirmative action as an attack on black and Latino potential,” Stern said.
Stern said that Wagner had a difficult time overcoming his learning disability, but he eventually succeeded in this endeavor and became a public speaker and tried to help others.
“The things that he found hardest, he was absolutely determined to do,” Stern said.
BAMN will continue, but Stern said it has lost more than just a member.
“It’s a great loss to us personally and Joe was an extremely lovable guy,” Stern said.
Wagner is survived by his father John, mother Ann and brother Tom.