With each young vic­tim, a void grows in Pr. Ge­orge’s

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT ZAPOTOSKY, OVETTA WIG­GINS AND PAUL DUG­GAN

Mar­ckel Ross, Charles Walker Jr., Aaron Kidd. All young, all shot, all gone.

Am­ber Stan­ley, Mar­cus Jones, Eliezer Reyes. Each a teenager, a stu­dent, a ca­su­alty.

In Prince Ge­orge’s County, the killings of a half-dozen kids ages 14 to 18, in un­re­lated tragedies in scat­tered places over a six-month span, have jolted Washington’s most crime-trou­bled sub­urb from a kind of slum­ber.

Gone — an as­pir­ing doc­tor, a fu­ture bar­ber, a kid who sketched a rose. Some liked danc­ing, some en­joyed mod­el­ing, one cheered for the Philadel­phia Ea­gles. They did well in school, or poorly, or just okay. They were still grow­ing up, no two the same.

Bul­lets killed them — from gang­bangers, from stickup men, from a mys­te­ri­ous at­tacker who shot a girl in her bed­room, po­lice say. Six vi­o­lent to­gether a cri­sis.

Just a few months ago, Prince Ge­orge’s of­fi­cials staged a cel­e­bra­tory an­nounce­ment of a big drop in vi­o­lence in 2012 — “a

deaths, re­nais­sance,” the po­lice chief called it. But that was be­fore the num­ber of pub­lic school stu­dents slain in the county this aca­demic year hit a tip­ping point in the civic con­science with two more fa­tal shoot­ings this past week.

Now mur­der again weighs heavy on the pub­lic’s mind.

“I’m frus­trated, be­cause we’ve made progress in this county, and to let six youths get killed on our watch is un­ac­cept­able,” said Barry Stan­ton, the Prince Ge­orge’s pub­lic safety di­rec­tor. “Ev­ery-

“To let six youths get killed on our watch is un­ac­cept­able. Ev­ery­body’s gal­va­nized on this is­sue, and I can tell you, we’re go­ing to . . . come up with some so­lu­tions.”

Barry Stan­ton, Prince Ge­orge’s County pub­lic safety di­rec­tor

body’s gal­va­nized on this is­sue, and I can tell you, we’re go­ing to come to­gether and fight this is­sue and come up with some so­lu­tions.”

Po­lice, so­cial ser­vice providers and non­profit groups plan to meet this week to dis­cuss form­ing a task force against youth vi­o­lence, Stan­ton said. He said the task force would func­tion within the county’s Trans­form­ing Neigh­bor­hoods Ini­tia­tive, an ef­fort to solve so­cial prob­lems in six trou­bled ar­eas of Prince Ge­orge’s.

“It’s tragic so many peo­ple have lost their ba­bies,” said Irma Gaither, mother of Am­ber Stan­ley. “I want par­ents to know that I feel their pain, and I’m sorry this hap­pened. Un­for­tu­nately, this is a broke sys­tem we live in, and only God above can help us.”

Although the killings have seized the com­mu­nity’s at­ten­tion at least partly be­cause the vic­tims were stu­dents, none of the homi­cides in­volved a school — ex­cept that one per­son hap­pened to be walking to a Capi­tol Heights cam­pus when he was shot in an at­tempted street holdup, po­lice said.

An­other was sim­i­larly killed in Hill­crest Heights, gunned down on a street as he ran from would-be rob­bers. One vic­tim was slain by an in­truder in her Ket­ter­ing home, an­other when shots were fired at a gath­er­ing of young peo­ple in a Forestville park­ing lot. Like Capi­tol Heights and Hill­crest Heights, Forestville is in­side the Cap­i­tal Belt­way, where the county’s crime rate is high­est and street vi­o­lence more com­mon.

Two vic­tims died in what po­lice said were gang-re­lated shoot­ings, on a Lewis­dale street and out­side a house party in Fort Washington.

“The thing that keeps coming back is peo­ple just don’t know how to deal with con­flict,” said Stan­ton, not­ing that in­ves­ti­ga­tors have found no con­nec­tion among the fa­tal en­coun­ters.

What sets the six apart on the ros­ter of Prince Ge­orge’s homi­cide ca­su­al­ties is not their school en­roll­ment but their ages.

From Aug. 22, just a few days into the aca­demic year, when Stan­ley was slain, un­til Tues­day, when Aaron Kidd died, the county recorded 35 homi­cides. The six stu­dents were the youngest of those killed, along with an 18-year-old man caught in the same gun­fire that ended Kidd’s life. Of the other vic­tims in that half-year span, one was 19 and nearly all the rest were in their 20s, 30s and 40s, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

Still, ev­ery school is a small com­mu­nity unto it­self. At Charles H. Flow­ers, Cen­tral, Friendly and Suitland high schools and the Foun­da­tion School, each stu­dent body acutely felt the tragedy in its ranks. Those emo­tions then spread from young peo­ple in class­rooms to their fam­i­lies at home, and even­tu­ally to the wider pub­lic.

Wed­nes­day night, in the frigid air, about 200 peo­ple marched in a vigil to the place where Charles Walker was shot in Hill­crest Heights, among them teenagers with nerves clearly frayed. Some be­gan push­ing, some shout­ing, and oth­ers be­gan to flee, afraid that a melee might erupt, that there might be gun­fire.

Lester Massey Jr., an un­cle of the slain youth, grabbed a teenager at the cen­ter of the skir­mish, hug­ging him tightly. “You got to show love and stop all this . . . vi­o­lence and beef­ing, man,” Massey said. “We got to pull to­gether.”

Walker “was a stand­out, col­lege-bound child with the right re­sources, de­meanor and work ethic,” said Latosha Sligh, his fifth-grade teacher of years ago.

This school year, at age 15, he was a fresh­man at Suitland High, and he had a girl­friend, for whom he bought a pair of Tim­ber­land boots. Late Mon­day af­ter­noon, car­ry­ing the new footwear in a bag as he walked along 28th Av­enue, Walker was ac­costed by five young men in a van, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

Some­one in the ve­hi­cle pointed a gun, de­mand­ing the bag, po­lice said. Af­ter Walker turned and ran, he was shot in the back. The as­sailants then fled with­out the boots. Po­lice have charged five peo­ple, ages 18 to 23, with mur­der.

“He was a true vic­tim of cir­cum­stances,” Sligh said.

Po­lice say Mar­ckel Ross, 18, a track ath­lete who dab­bled in mod­el­ing, was killed in the same way — by a would-be rob­ber. A ju­nior at Cen­tral High in Capi­tol Heights, Ross was walking to school on the morn­ing of Sept. 11 when some­one pointed a gun at him on the street. Whether the as­sailant stole any­thing is un­clear. But he took Ross’s life. At least one sus­pect, al­ready in cus­tody, prob­a­bly will be charged in the shoot­ing early this week, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said.

“A lot of the par­ents are con­cerned about their chil­dren,” said Ernest Moore, pres­i­dent of the Prince Ge­orge’s PTA Coun­cil. “Not only just walking home, but be­ing out­side by them­selves.”

Kidd, an 18-year-old fresh­man at Suitland High, was fa­tally shot early Tues­day evening while hang­ing out with other young peo­ple in the park­ing lot of a Forestville apart­ment com­plex. He had been ar­rested for tres­pass­ing there in the past.

His mother said that Kidd, who wanted to be a bar­ber some­day, was a lov­ing son, although he some­times had an “at­ti­tude.” Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said they are look­ing into sus­pi­cions that Kidd had ties to a gang called Na­tional So­ci­ety. At the time of the shoot­ing, he was free on bond, await­ing a trial in a bur­glary case.

“It is just so dev­as­tat­ing,” said his mother, Theresa Wil­liams. She said she and her son had talked about the vi­o­lent death of his class­mate Walker, which left her “just sick to my stom­ach.” Now, “I see what that other mother is go­ing through,” she said.

Gina James re­mem­bers a staff mem­ber at the Foun­da­tion School in Largo de­liv­er­ing a sketch to her of­fice one day. It was a draw­ing of a rose by Eliezer Reyes, 14, the youngest of the slain stu­dents. Reyes was gunned down a lit­tle af­ter mid­night on Dec. 5 while walking along a Lewis­dale street with two ac­quain­tances.

His com­pan­ions, po­lice said, were “doc­u­mented” mem­bers of a gang known as the Lewis­dale Crew. It is un­clear whether Reyes be­longed to the gang.

Reyes’s fa­ther, Jose Reyes, said he had im­plored his son to say home that night. But he said the boy was in the habit of go­ing out when he pleased.

Po­lice said the al­leged drive-by shooter, who has been charged with mur­der, is a mem­ber of Mara Sal­va­trucha, or MS-13, a gang that has been feud­ing with the Lewis­dale Crew. One of Eliezer Reyes’s com­pan­ions was wounded in the at­tack.

“I still have the pic­ture” of the rose, said James, di­rec­tor of the county-sup­ported Foun­da­tion School, which spe­cial­izes in ed­u­cat­ing young­sters with emo­tional and be­hav­ioral prob­lems. “I think he wanted to be an artist.”

In the other al­legedly gang-re­lated killing, Mar­cus Jones, 16, a sopho­more at Friendly High, was shot just af­ter mid­night on Jan. 20, shortly af­ter leav­ing a house party in Fort Washington. “He was just a happy 16-year-old,” said his grand­mother Bar­bara Bev­erly. He liked foot­ball and bas­ket­ball, she said. He was an Ea­gles fan and col­lected ten­nis shoes.

It was his choice of friends — mean­ing his gang af­fil­i­a­tion — that got him killed, po­lice said. They said Jones be­longed to a crew called Dan­ger Boys. When a dis­pute erupted out­side the party, bul­lets flew and Jones col­lapsed to the pave­ment. Two al­leged mem­bers of a ri­val crew called Baby Haiti have been charged with mur­der.

“Th­ese young peo­ple,” Bev­erly said. “They done lost their mind.”

And there was 17-year-old Stan­ley, the first of the six stu­dents slain. What sep­a­rates her case from the rest is that Stan­ley, un­like the other vic­tims, could hardly have been in a safer place when she was killed. She was in her Ket­ter­ing home. About 10:30 p.m. Aug. 22, po­lice said, an in­truder burst in, chased Stan­ley to her bed­room, shot her, then walked out of the house and van­ished.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said de­tec­tives are ex­plor­ing whether the as­sailant killed Stan­ley by mis­take, whether the in­tended tar­get was an­other 17-year-old girl liv­ing in the house, a fos­ter child with a trou­bled past.

Stan­ley was a se­nior at Charles H. Flow­ers High, an honor stu­dent in a sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy pro­gram who hoped to go to med­i­cal school. Like Ross, she oc­ca­sion­ally mod­eled.

“I want to know why,” said Gaither, her mother. “That’s the main thing: Why?”

Months af­ter her burial, col­lege in­for­ma­tion pack­ets ad­dressed to Stan­ley con­tinue to ar­rive in the mail, a re­minder for her mother of what might have been.

“I just can’t be­gin to even try to rea­son as to what’s all this go­ing on with the kids,” Gaither said of the stu­dents who have been slain. “I guess it just stems back to what’s go­ing on with the world sit­u­a­tion. I guess they feel that if th­ese adults don’t really care, then why should they care?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I have no idea.”

Charles Walker Jr.

Am­ber Stan­ley

Eliezer Reyes

Mar­ckel Ross

Aaron Kidd

Mar­cus Jones

TOP: Von­nay Jones and Vean­shae Man­grum grieve Wed­nes­day near the site in Hill­crest Heights where Charles Walker Jr. was killed two days be­fore. Walker is one of six teenage stu­dents fa­tally shot in Prince Ge­orge’s County in un­re­lated in­ci­dents over the past six months.

PHO­TOS BY BON­NIE JO MOUNT/THE WASHINGTON POST

ABOVE: A me­mo­rial to Walker, seen Fri­day near the spot where he was shot. Po­lice say Walker, 15 and a fresh­man at Suitland High School, was ac­costed by five young men try­ing to rob him and was shot in the back af­ter he turned and ran.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.