Shock and grief continue to surround the tragic death of 17-year-old Jonathan Hoffman, who died Friday evening, May 18, from multiple gunshot wounds. Charged with his murder is his maternal grandmother, Sandra Layne, who is being held without bond after her arraignment on Monday, May 21, by Judge Marc Barron of the 48th District Court.
Hoffman, a former student at Hillel Day School, was a senior at Farmington Central High School. Since last fall, the teen had been living with his grandparents, Sandra and Fred Layne, in the Maple Place Villas condominium complex in West Bloomfield. His parents, Michael Hoffman and Jennifer Hoffman, who are divorced, were living in Arizona with Jonathan’s younger sister, Jessica (“Jessie”).
Hoffman was described as bright, funny, kind and caring by his many friends and former classmates, who were stunned by his sudden and violent death.
“Some of my funniest memories from Hillel are with him,” said Ryan Grosinger of Farmington Hills.
According to Lt. Tim Diamond of the West Bloomfield Police Department, emergency dispatchers received calls from a neighbor who heard gunshots and from Hoffman himself, who said he had been shot by his grandmother. A detective testifying at Layne’s arraignment said the 911 operator heard Hoffman screaming that he had been shot again.
When police arrived, Layne came to the door holding a semi-automatic gun she had purchased a month earlier and announced that she had murdered her grandson. Hoffman was transported to Botsford Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at approximately 6 p.m.
Layne was immediately taken into custody and sent to a local hospital for observation before returning to the West Bloomfield police station to await arraignment.
At press time, the circumstances leading up to the teen’s death remain a mystery. Both of Hoffman’s parents, who maintain an amicable relationship, said, during an exclusive face-to-face interview with the JN, they had no inkling there were problems between their son and his grandmother. They are struggling to cope with their grief and disbelief in the midst of ongoing press coverage and a flurry of rumors and speculation.
Michael Hoffman, Jonathan’s father, said the reason his son was living with the Laynes has been publicly misconstrued. The original plan was for both Jonathan and Jessie to move to Arizona with their parents. Almost as soon as they arrived, Jessie was diagnosed with a nonmalignant brain tumor, which required a month-long hospital stay, three surgeries and many rehabilitation sessions. Her recovery was consuming most of Michael and Jennifer’s time, and Jonathan was lonely for his friends back home.
When Layne invited Jonathan to live with her while he completed his senior year, the Hoffmans agreed.
Jennifer Hoffman described Layne, her mother, as a typical “doting grandmother” who had assured the Hoffmans she would take good care of their son.
“Jennifer and I were spending every day in the hospital; it was a full-time job,” said Michael Hoffman. “I was reluctant to be apart from Jonathan, but we thought it would be best for him to have the comfort of his friends.”
Jennifer Hoffman visited monthly and spoke often with her mother and son, including the day of the murder, but neither Layne nor Hoffman revealed there were problems at home.
“I talked to my mother that morning [May 18] and she talked about going shopping and what to make for dinner,” said Jennifer Hoffman.
Both parents were mystified to learn that West Bloomfield police had been called to the Layne residence in March during a dispute between Jonathan and his grandmother. Diamond of the WBPD described it as a typical family disagreement and said no arrests were made.
“I was there every month, and neither of them said a word about it,” said Jennifer Hoffman.
Michael Hoffman said his son had experimented with drugs but was not heavily involved, as some news reports implied. According to his father, Hoffman became ill after experimenting with some mushrooms and called the police himself. Afterward, he apologized to his parents and posted his regrets on Twitter. Also, Hoffman said his son received a Minor in Possession (MIP) charge two months ago and had been successfully carrying out the terms of his probation.
“He admitted his mistake and said he wanted to make a contribution to society,” said his mother.
Former classmate and close friend Max Dashevsky of West Bloomfield said Hoffman was “one of the smartest and funniest kids” he knew.
“He cracked jokes 24/7, and he was always helping others,” said Dashevsky. “He was like a brother to me. This really hurts.”
Former Hillel classmate Brianna Mark of Farmington Hills, who knew Hoffman since kindergarten, saw him the week before his death and said he seemed fine.
“He was always extremely happy; he was just that kind of kid,” she said. “There’s no way he could have harmed anyone; he was very sweet.”
Hoffman was known for wearing white T-shirts with grey sweatpants, saying he wanted to be known for who he was and not for what he wore.
“We called it ‘the Jon way,’” said his father. “He wore a hot dog costume to a party where no one else was dressed up. He liked to make people laugh.”
Hoffman had been accepted to Eastern Michigan University but had not decided on his future plans. His family admired his aptitude for technology and writing.
“He was brilliant with computers,” said Michael Hoffman’s sister, Judy Metzger, who lives in Farmington Hills. “We’d call Jon whenever we had a problem, and he’d fix it with one click.”
Michael Hoffman said his son was a very special young man on many levels. He used his computer to do research on nutrition and taught himself how to improve his diet through probiotics and supplements.
“He was like the tip of an iceberg,” said Michael Hoffman. “There was so much we didn’t know about him and are just now coming to learn. We only saw the tip.”
About 25 friends and classmates gathered for a memorial service facilitated by Rabbi Josh Bennett at Temple Israel Monday evening. Metzger said the family has received numerous calls from Jonathan’s friends, asking what they can do to help.
“We didn’t know he had so many friends, how many people loved him,” said Jennifer Hoffman.
Hoffman attended North Farmington High School for two years and then transferred to Farmington Central High School, from which he was scheduled to graduate in June. The school was closed on May 22 so students and staff members could attend the funeral.
“We will miss Jonathan here at Central. He was a good student who was very supportive of his friends,” said principal Pat Karas. “It is a tragedy that no one can make sense of.”
Phyllis Krause, Hoffman’s paternal grandmother, is sad about the things she will never be able to share with her grandson.
“There was so much more we looked forward to doing with him,” said Krause. “We knew he had all kinds of potential.”
Hoffman’s sister, Jessie, wrote an essay to be read at the funeral, highlighting some of the special times the siblings had shared. A favorite was the “Jessie Dance,” which always brought laughter to Hoffman and his friends.
“The bottom line is that Jon was the kind of brother that every girl wishes for,” she wrote. “I will miss him terribly.”
Jonathan is survived by his parents, Michael Hoffman and Jennifer Hoffman; sister, Jessica (Jessie) Hoffman; grandparents, Phyllis Hoffman Krause and Dr. Gerald Krause, Daniel Silvers and Susan Chalfin, and the late Sanford Hoffman; aunts and uncles, Judy and Marc Metzger, Rhonda Hoffman, and Scott Silvers and Linda Racey; and cousins, Samantha and Emily Metzger.
The funeral was held Tuesday, May 22, at the Ira Kaufman Chapel, officiated by Rabbi Joshua Bennett and Cantorial Soloist Neil Michaels of Temple Israel. Interment at Machpelah Cemetery. Contributions honoring the memory of Jonathan Hoffman may be made to a charity of one’s choice.
By Ronelle Grier, Contributing Writer