Baltimore Police have identified and are searching for a suspect in the killing of 26-year-old tech entrepreneur Pava LaPere, an admired leader known as a rising star in her field, saying the convicted sex offender “will kill and he will rape.”

Police found LaPere’s partially clothed body with signs of blunt-force trauma on the roof of her apartment building in the 300 block of West Franklin Street in the Mount Vernon neighborhood late Monday morning, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. LaPere, 26, had been reported missing earlier that day.

Late Tuesday, Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley said a first-degree murder warrant had been issued and authorities were actively seeking 32-year-old Jason Dean Billingsley. He said he was not aware of any connection between Billingsley and LaPere.

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Worley said Billingsley was considered armed and dangerous, and was a suspect in “at least one other case” that he declined to describe.

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“This individual will kill and he will rape,” Worley said. “He will do anything he can to cause harm. Please be aware of your surroundings.”

Worley did not say how investigators identified Billingsley as a suspect.

Billingsley pleaded guilty to a first-degree sex offense charge in 2015, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison with all but 14 years suspended. Denied parole, he was released in October 2022 on good-time credits, according to parole commission Chairman David R. Blumberg. According to court records, Billingsley previously pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in December 2009 and second-degree assault in June 2011.

The state corrections department lists Billingsley as a registered sex offender who lives in the 1500 block of Baker Street in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore. According to the department, he was released on Oct. 5, 2022 and is listed as “non-compliant,” though it was unclear why.

LaPere left her desert hometown of Tucson, Arizona, to attend college over 2,000 miles away at Johns Hopkins, where she first hatched the idea of a new business platform powered by artificial intelligence that she wanted to build here in Baltimore, not exactly known as a hub of tech innovation.

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That idea became EcoMap, now a young company of about 30 people, based near the Inner Harbor. LaPere felt her company could make an outsized difference in Baltimore, a place “with amazing, underlying assets that need to be awakened, leveraged and resourced,” she told The Banner in May. Working in a field typically associated with prosperous cities in the West, LaPere was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in the category of social impact.

In a statement, LaPere’s company said: “Pava was not only the visionary force behind EcoMap but was also a deeply compassionate and dedicated leader. Her untiring commitment to our company, to Baltimore, to amplifying the critical work of ecosystems across the country, and to building a deeply inclusive culture as a leader, friend, and partner set a standard for leadership, and her legacy will live on through the work we continue to do.”

EcoMap was “a first-of-a-kind company in that space,” said Jamie McDonald, CEO of UpSurge, a company that worked with EcoMap and raises awareness about local startups. EcoMap was created to be an online resource for any type of business-related community of shared interests. Companies could use EcoMap to find investors or other companies with aligned interests. Individuals could use it to find a company to work for or a local conference to attend.

“The Baltimore tech community has lost a shining star,” UpSurge said in a statement, “and it is difficult to put into words the depth of the community’s sorrow at Pava’s death. Pava was not only committed to Baltimore, but also the vision of creating an equitable tech and startup economy here and across the globe.”

Police would not answer questions about where LaPere was found at her apartment building.

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Within the building, people were shaken by the news.

“That’s pretty horrifying,” Chris McNees, a tenant of the building, told WJZ, a media partner of The Baltimore Banner. “I mean, just for that to happen anywhere in the city is obviously a bad thing, but it’s hard to imagine why this would happen specifically in this building.”

From left, State's Attorney for Baltimore City Ivan J. Bates, Baltimore Police Commissioner Rich Worley and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott hold a press conference about the killing of Pava LaPere at BPD headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023.
From left, Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Rich Worley and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott hold a press conference about the murder of Pava LaPere at police headquarters on Tuesday. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

According to her LinkedIn profile, LaPere founded a non profit called TCO Labs and a student incubator called The Hatchery while she was an undergrad at Hopkins. While still a student, she also started an accelerator program, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, and a nonprofit that helped student entrepreneurs in Maryland, Innov8MD. She remained the head of its board as she started yet another company, EcoMap, all before graduating in May 2019.

“The Johns Hopkins community deeply mourns the tragic loss of Pava LaPere, a 2019 graduate who made Baltimore home and invested her talent in our city,” the university said in a statement released Tuesday.

LaPere majored in computer science her first three years at Hopkins, switching to sociology her senior year. She wanted to solve societal problems as an entrepreneur, and not getting a sociology degree would be like “launching a project without market research,” she said in a university newsletter in 2018.

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She explained her motivation to create EcoMap: “When it was time for the teams to look to Baltimore’s ecosystem, I had no idea where to point them. There are so many resources for entrepreneurs, and yet there is no place where they are all centralized and sortable. We created EcoMap to give entrepreneurs a look at all of the resources available to them, as well as to give ecosystem developers an idea of what resource gaps may exist within their communities.”

EcoMap had its struggles in its first five years as a company, LaPere told The Banner in a May 2023 interview. The company, which relied on student interns early on, tested several platforms before the pandemic, eventually settling on its current one. The company was turned down by investors, went into debt, and came close to folding more than once.

Drawn to what she called Baltimore’s fighting spirit, LaPere spoke of her connection to the city this way: “What gives me the most hope is the people here. We really [care]. The vast majority engage genuinely; it’s a smaller network. That is such a different contrast to other ecosystems. It’s a palpable difference. Founders feel that when they come here. It’s an enjoyable place to be a CEO, but it also means myself and my co-founder can go out and say it’s a great place.”

Although she resided in the city, she spoke fondly of spending time as a student at Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County.

“In the summer, I go there to kayak,” she said in the Hopkins newsletter, “and if I am ever working through a hard problem, I find it helpful to remove myself from Hopkins and go into the woods, where I can enjoy nature and work through whatever I need to.”

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Delali Dzirasa, founder and CEO of Fearless, a software development and digital services company, said he found out about LaPere’s death while at a conference, before giving a keynote address.

”She was a force — I don’t know how else to describe Pava. She was a complete force. She could own any room she was in,” said Dzirasa, one of LaPere’s mentors. “She might’ve known that, but she never tried to.”

She never let her ego get in the way of her personal conduct, he said.

“She was serious about her business, she knew her stuff. But she was extremely kind, extremely compassionate and always made space for people in the conversation.”

Dzirasa said LaPere had recently hit a personal milestone in her company: hiring 50% people of color and 50% women.

“She sent me an email — she got there, I was so proud of her,” Dzirasa said.

Sometimes, Dzirasa said, he forgot his mentee’s age. It hurts to think that LaPere won’t reach her full potential now, he added.

”How is she not 45, all she’s been able to accomplish and everyone’s she been able to touch. She’s a kid, she’s young — that’s what hurts me so much,” he said. “She was on this rise and just starting to be seen, and to not see that star get to that end and mature to full potential.”

hugo.kugiya@thebaltimorebanner.com

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