The founder of a US tech startup, whose professional accomplishments earned her a spot on a Forbes 30 under 30 list earlier this year, was found dead after being reported missing late Monday morning, according to Baltimore police.
Pava LaPere, 26, had suffered from blunt force trauma, police said. Officials released her name in a news release Tuesday morning. Public records suggest LaPere was living at the apartment complex where her body was found.
Officials announced a suspect in the case at a news conference Tuesday evening: Jason Billingsley, 32, was paroled last October in an earlier sex assault case. Court records show he pleaded guilty to first-degree sex assault in 2015. Officials 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 evening that it is too early for them to comment on this case.
Baltimore Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley asked anyone with information about Billingsley’s whereabouts to contact authorities. He said Billingsley should be considered armed and dangerous.
“This individual will kill and he will rape. He will do anything he can to cause harm,” Worley said.
LaPere, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2019, founded the startup EcoMap Technologies. The company focuses on curating data from business, nonprofit and education ecosystems and making it easier to access and interpret, according to their website. Their clients include Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and T. Rowe Price Foundation.
A vigil was planned for Wednesday evening to honor Pava LaPere, who launched EcoMap from her dorm room.
Her friends and family members are left trying to reconcile how she lived with how she died.
“She was so the antithesis of what happened to her,” her close friend Karina Mandell told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday morning. “That polarity, that’s what makes it so shocking.”
Losing their friend in such a horrific way has left Mandell and others wondering if they should fear for their own safety.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, her family requested privacy.
“Pava made an impact in every endeavor she undertook and on every life she touched,” her father, Frank LaPere wrote. “She will be forever missed as a daughter, sister, grand-daughter, niece, cousin and loyal friend.”
Mandell met LaPere at an entrepreneurship networking event several years ago and knew immediately they were kindred spirits. As a college student, LaPere was heavily involved in efforts to expand opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
She gave a TEDx talk at Johns Hopkins 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 affect systemic change.
“We were alike in that we wanted to connect the dots, break down barriers and let people connect,” Mandell said. “That old adage, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
LaPere believed in conscious capitalism, an ethical approach to business that’s become more popular in recent years, and she prioritized diverse hiring practices.
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, the city she embraced after growing up in Arizona.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said he had the privilege of getting to know LaPere over the past few years. He praised her generosity, ingenuity and dedication to Baltimore.
“To have that life cut short by someone who has no care about anything other than harming people is something that should sit deep in the stomachs of all Baltimoreans tonight,” he said.
Scott and other leaders promised an all-out manhunt for the suspect, saying, “We will not rest until justice is served.”
In a statement posted to social media Tuesday, her EcoMap colleagues said LaPere “set a standard for leadership” through 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.”
In another statement released Tuesday, Johns Hopkins officials expressed condolences for the recent graduate who “made Baltimore home and invested her talent in our city.”
“Pava was well known and loved in the Baltimore entrepreneurship community and will be profoundly missed,” they said.
LaPere also founded a nonprofit that helped support student entrepreneurs across Maryland, according to her LinkedIn page.
On her LinkedIn profile, she described herself as a tech CEO “who believes in hyperlocal, ecosystem-based economic development to create a more equitable future for all communities.” She posted on Instagram about founding the startup from her college dorm room and watching it grow into a robust, successful venture.
“To be honest, running this company has been harder than I ever imagined,” she said in a video posted to social media in April by the nonprofit Baltimore Homecoming. “But it makes me feel so excited every single time we launch a new platform because we get to see the thousands of people who are using it to find the information that they need in their community.”