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Slain Youth Left Trail of Homicides, D.C. Police Believe

By then, investigators had found at least one witness tying Merritt to Riley's killing, police said, and they were eager to question him. Two days after the custody order was issued, detectives distributed fliers to patrol officers to arrest Merritt if they spotted him. The police department's warrant squad was also looking for him.

As police were searching, two more killings occurred. Michael Lanham, 32, was fatally shot Sept. 17 in the 1300 block of Barnaby Terrace SE. Five days later, Gregory Sam, 41, was killed nearby.

The motives for these homicides are not clear, but police officials said that they believe Merritt killed both men and that they expect to close those investigations soon. Investigators are reviewing homicide and assault files to see whether there might be other connections to Merritt, they said.

Merritt's last suspected crime occurred Sept. 27, the officials said. Early that morning, he allegedly shot and critically wounded Cheryl Stover, 38, police said. Merritt had lost money to Stover in a craps game, the officials said, and he wanted his money back.

Stover remains hospitalized. Her mother, Annie Stover, 70, died days after the shooting after suffering a heart attack.

"My wife had a weak heart," said her husband, Melvin Stover, 70. "The shooting upset her."

Melvin Stover said he felt that Merritt's death might have cheated him out of seeing justice done in his daughter's shooting. "I wanted my daughter to get well enough to point him out so police could get him," he added. "I would rather see him in jail than dead."

Although police had difficulty finding witnesses willing to testify, relatives of Lampkin and Riley said they have long believed that Merritt was responsible for the killings.

Lampkin's mother, Henrietta Green-Fairnot, said she was told several months after her son's death that Merritt had been the gunman. "It is truly sad," she said.

Riley's mother, Cornelia Robertson, said she began visiting the Atlantic Street neighborhood this spring and summer to learn who might have killed her son. She said residents told her that Merritt was responsible.

As she wandered through the neighborhood one day, Robertson spotted Merritt walking toward her. He gave her a big hug, she said.

"That felt really funny," she said. "He caught me off guard. I knew he had killed my son, but I didn't want to show it."

Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson contributed to this report.

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