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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Dec. 9, 2023

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Man wanted in killing of Baltimore tech entrepreneur Pava LaPere is arrested, police say


BALTIMORE (AP) — A man was arrested in the killing of a Baltimore tech entrepreneur who had built a successful startup that earned her national recognition, police said early Thursday.

Police didn’t release any details of the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Jason Billingsley after the death of 26-year-old Pava LaPere but planned a news conference later in the morning. Police had announced an arrest warrant earlier in the week, saying that Billingsley was wanted on a first-degree murder charge in LaPere’s death.

LaPere’s family thanked city police and their law enforcement partners Thursday morning for their “tireless efforts” throughout the investigation and apprehension of the suspect.

“We’re relieved to know he can no longer hurt other innocent victims,” the family said in a statement. “While this doesn’t change that Baltimore lost one of its most passionate, influential fans, our efforts remain focused on remembering and celebrating Pava Marie — her life, successes, and legacy.”

LaPere was remembered at a vigil Wednesday night as someone who remained focused on building community and using entrepreneurship to create meaningful social change even as her national profile rose.

Police found LaPere dead with signs of blunt force trauma in her apartment complex after she was reported missing late Monday morning. The Johns Hopkins University graduate founded the tech startup EcoMap Technologies while she was still a college student.

Billingsley was publicly identified as a suspect Tuesday, with police saying that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were searching for him. Billingsley, 32, was paroled last October in a sexual assault case. Court records show he pleaded guilty to first-degree sex assault in 2015.

In an update Wednesday afternoon, police said Billingsley is also suspected in a rape, attempted murder and arson that occurred Sept. 19 in Baltimore.

Officials have said they have no reason to believe LaPere knew Billingsley.

The public defender’s office, which represented Billingsley in the past, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it was too early for them to comment on this case. The office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Billingsley’s behalf Thursday morning.

While building EcoMap, LaPere remained focused on the philanthropic efforts that motivated her from the beginning.

“She knew what she wanted to accomplish and there was nothing that would get in her way,” her father, Frank LaPere, told a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered for the vigil Wednesday night.

As a college student, LaPere was heavily involved in efforts to expand opportunities for young entrepreneurs. She launched EcoMap from her dorm room at Johns Hopkins.

“She saw things that no one else saw,” said Sherrod Davis, a Baltimore native and co-founder of EcoMap. “She saw a new Baltimore, not one that was riddled with crime and destitution, but one that was a symbol for prosperity and innovation — one that took people from every community and connected them to what they needed when they needed it.”

She gave a TEDx talk on the university’s campus in 2019, describing her journey into the startup world and her vision for the future. She said she scrapped plans to become a doctor after news coverage of a car bombing in Syria opened her eyes to human suffering on a global scale; she wanted to effect systemic change, especially among underserved communities.

Loved ones said the same philosophy was at the heart of LaPere’s company, which uses technology to curate data and make information more accessible across social ecosystems. Their clients include Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and The Aspen Institute.

LaPere believed in conscious capitalism, an ethical approach to business that’s become more popular in recent years, and she prioritized diverse hiring practices; half her employees were women and half were people of color.

Earlier this year, she was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for social impact. She recently posted on Instagram about growing EcoMap to a staff of 30 people and opening its offices in downtown Baltimore.

“She was so the antithesis of what happened to her,” her close friend Karina Mandell told AP in an interview Wednesday. “That polarity, that’s what makes it so shocking.”

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