John Villneff murdered - Purple Heart Recipient TWO TIMES in VietnamPHOTO: John Villneff loved restoring cars, his family said. "He never bothered anybody," said his daughter Melissa Villneff. / Family photo
Detroit Police say they’ve arrested a suspect in the shooting of a 62-year-old Vietnam War veteran who died protecting his grandchildren during a break-in.
John Villneff's family says he died a hero Wednesday night -- and that's how they'll remember him.
Late Thursday, Detroit Police sent out an announcement that an arrest had been made. Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee credited citizen help for the arrest. Investigators were not releasing details about the suspect.
Two bullets hit the two-time Purple Heart recipient as he tried to protect his 12-year-old granddaughter, family members said. The girl ran to his house next door after four men broke into her aunt's west-side Detroit home while she was inside, relatives said.
"He jumped in front of my niece because (the robbers) were trying to kill her because she was taking pictures of them," said Melissa Villneff, John Villneff's daughter, who lives in the house that was burglarized on Rutland. Bullets hit Villneff in the heart and back, his family said, and also pierced the door and wall of his home that he shared with his son Michael Villneff, 37. The pictures his granddaughter took were turned over to police.
"He died right here in the living room," his son said. "He didn't deserve for this to happen."
Michael Villneff learned what happened when his father called as he was leaving the Tigers game Wednesday night.
"My father called me and said that he had been shot and that he was dying," he said. "I didn't get the chance to say that I loved him."
Other people were in the house when the men entered, including Melissa Villneff's 10- and 13-year-old nieces and 16-year-old nephew who is a star football player at Robichaud High School in Dearborn Heights. He was pistol-whipped and beaten with a baseball bat, relatives said. He received stitches in his head, had his jaw wired shut and was released from the hospital Thursday.
The robbers stole jewelry, a cable box, several video game consoles, a cell phone and a laptop, family members said.
The intruders were not strangers, the family said. Two of them were friends of Melissa Villneff's 18-year-old son and had been at her house in the past, relatives said.
John Villneff -- a father of three and grandfather of 12 -- served in the U.S. Marines and Navy. He was remembered as a special man who loved restoring cars.
He was born in Highland Park and moved to Arkansas as a child before returning to Michigan. He let his white beard grow long and would dress up as Santa Claus.
"He was a very good man, just a good old Southern boy, loved to help people," Melissa Villneff said. "He never bothered anybody."
John Villneff often dined at L. George's Coney Island restaurant near his home, said head waitress Anna Baxter. She said waitresses at the restaurant warned him about the neighborhood when he moved there in February. The man who lived in the home before him left because of break-ins, she said.
"It's a shame what happened to him," Baxter said.