Man killed in Musk. Heights gun violence was beloved father

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — Homicide victim, 42-year-old Nathan Ward, was no stranger to trouble; he had a police record through 2006 that included drugs, arson and fraud.

But his family said he was now a different man — a man of faith who wanted to make the world a better place.

“He was striving to make up for anything he’d ever done and change everybody’s life that he could,” said his girlfriend Melissa Hammer, who lived with him and their blended family in Muskegon County’s Dalton Township, near Twin Lakes.

Ward grew up in the Rockford area before moving to Muskegon County, where he was days away from opening a metal fabrication business in Muskegon Heights.

“He wanted to hire the less fortunate, people that were on the streets that couldn’t get back into society, people who’d been in jail,” Hammer said.

Instead, Ward was shot to death around 9 p.m on Dec. 21 on Jefferson Street, between Norton and Maplewood avenues.

Ward fled from the home in the 3300 block of Jefferson Street after he was shot. He collapsed and died across the street, according to police.

It was near the home of the man police say killed Ward. That man, 21-year-old Masson Bryant, turned himself in the next day.

Police said drugs were found at the home. His girlfriend does not know why Ward was there. She believes he was accompanying a friend there, but utterly discounts the idea that the shooting was the result of self-defense or a drug deal gone wrong.

“I do know that he pleaded for his life and asked this guy to please let him go because he had a girlfriend and a child and obviously this person didn’t even care,” Hammer said.

She said the person who killed her soulmate has no idea how many lives have been devastated.

“I just couldn’t understand how somebody could be so happy all the time. It was beautiful. He was really just a positive person,” Hammer said. “We were so blessed to have him in our lives. It just really hurts that someone could take that away.”

“We enjoyed riding horses and doing activities with our horses and our kids and our dogs,” Hammer said. “Our life was pretty much based around family.”

Now, Ward’s 12-year-old daughter is left with only her memories.

“He always was funny. He always had a laugh, and whenever he took off his hat, he’d always have crazy hair,” Samantha Ward said about her dad.

And now the little notes he left for her many mornings on the kitchen table are priceless tangible mementos of her dad.

“Sometimes my dad would just leave me letters and this one says, ‘Good morning, my little chili bean. I hope you have a great day and I love you so very much. Remember to always try your best. Love dad,’ Samantha said, her eyes filled with tears.

On Tuesday, Bryant is slated for the first of many appearances in a Muskegon court. He is charged with open murder and faces life in prison if convicted.