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Chelios taking leave of absence after restaurant deaths

DETROIT -- Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios said
Thursday that he will be off the ice indefinitely while he helps
employees of his sports bars cope with the stabbing deaths of two
co-workers.

Chelios spoke to one of the victims minutes before she was
stabbed to death Tuesday by a recently fired employee who later
confessed to killing her and a co-worker at the eatery, according
to a police report.

He said the deaths of 49-year-old Megan Soroka and 52-year-old
Mark Barnard were "senseless ... and there's no explanation."

Chelios was on the phone with Soroka minutes before her death
and said she thought she heard a fight and was going to
investigate, according to the police report.

A 17-year-old who recently was fired from Cheli's Chili Bar
confessed to the killings and told investigators that he also took
money from a restaurant safe, the report said. He is charged with
two counts of first-degree murder.

Justin Blackshere of Detroit, who worked as a busboy, faces
mandatory life in prison without parole if convicted as charged. He
was arraigned Wednesday evening, and Magistrate Millicent Sherman
ordered him held without bond until a preliminary examination on
Jan. 16.

Blackshere did not have an attorney as of Thursday evening, the
Wayne County Prosecutor's office said.

Chelios, 44, spoke Thursday at Detroit police headquarters,
Chief Ella Bully-Cummings at his side and a phalanx of police brass
behind them. His voice quivering, he compared the killings to a
death in the family and called the victims "the two sweetest
people I ever met."

"Both Megan and Mark were good employees, but more importantly,
they were part of my family," said Chelios. "They were dedicated
and hard working, and this whole thing is a tragedy."

He and Bully-Cummings declined to talk about the suspect or the
case against him.

"I'm confident our justice system will handle this
appropriately," Chelios said.

The roots of the crime lie in the breakdown of families and the
failure to teach young people how to resolve conflicts, the police
chief said.

"I don't think there is anything you could have done to prevent
it," Bully-Cummings said.

Chelios did not play in Detroit's 2-1 victory over Anaheim on
Tuesday night and was not traveling with the team for its game
Thursday night at San Jose. Chelios said he would rejoin the Red
Wings when the time is right.

"The Red Wings have given me a leave of absence" without a set
deadline, Chelios said. "I'll come back when I feel ready and the
families feel ready.

"I'm just going to try to get through this day by day with
everybody."

A companion restaurant in Dearborn reopened Wednesday, and the
Detroit restaurant was open Thursday for the first time since the
stabbings.

"I know Megan and Mark would want us to do that," Chelios
said. "They were proud of what we have built here."

A counselor has met with employees and would be available in the
future as well, he said.