Largo Mall Slaying Adds to Residents' Fears
Thursday, November 17, 2005
When the Boulevard at Capital Centre opened two years ago, residents in central Prince George's County hoped the mall would deliver what they had long demanded: upscale retail.
Still, some couldn't quite shake the memory of nearby Landover Mall, the once-prosperous shopping destination that steadily lost business as crime overtook its corridors.
So when police charged a 15-year-old youth this week in a fatal beating at the Largo mall, community leaders and residents said they felt betrayed.
"I don't like to publicly bash the Boulevard because we are still trying to raise the bar on the type of retail we have, but the developer let the community and the county down," said Arthur Turner, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's Community Organizations.
Even before the mall opened, residents exacted pledges from the original developer that they hoped would ensure a family-friendly atmosphere: Don't bring in stores that draw loiterers. Don't bring in too many athletic shoe stores, T-shirt shops and cell phone businesses that attract a young crowd without much money to spend. Don't host movies that attract an undesirable element.
Residents were delighted by some of the new shops and restaurants -- including Borders, Circuit City, Ann Taylor Loft and a Magic Johnson movie theater complex.
Some expressed disappointment in stores that arrived later.
A week after Matthew Pickett, 21, was beaten outside Borders, the movie theater was playing "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." Pickett, a military recruit from Upper Marlboro, died of head injuries. His death has become a rallying point for some residents concerned about crime at the shopping center.
Police charged a Landover youth Tuesday with manslaughter in the case. He was held on $10,000 bond after a hearing yesterday. He is scheduled to return to court Dec. 12.
Police initially said Pickett had been attacked by 10 young men and hit with a pipe or other object as he walked from Borders to the movie theater.
Sources said yesterday that authorities are considering an alternative scenario: that Pickett suffered injuries to the back of his head as a result of falling after he was allegedly struck by the 15-year-old.
Authorities said they are awaiting the results of an autopsy.
Pickett's relatives said yesterday that they don't think he would have been involved in a fight with the teenager. They described Pickett, a teacher's aide for special education students at Rosaryville Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, as a gentle young man who enjoyed reading and writing poetry.
His uncle, Mark Pickett, said his nephew cashed two checks hours before he headed to the Boulevard and had planned to buy a coat before watching a movie. When he was found, the money was missing and he did not have a coat, Pickett said.
Relatives of the suspect bristled yesterday at the suggestion that he is a troublemaker. The relatives are not being named to protect the identity of the suspect, who was charged as a juvenile.
An aunt, one of an entourage of 12 relatives who attended his hearing yesterday, called the incident a gang fight involving several young men.
"Everybody involved in this situation should step up to the plate," the boy's mother said. "They are making my son out to be a bad person. He comes from a real churchgoing family.
"Why do they have just one child [in custody] when a number of people were involved in this?"
At the Boulevard yesterday, signs posted throughout the mall offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Pickett's death.
Residents continued to press for changes at the mall. A group from Mitchellville and other neighborhoods sent petitions to the mall's management last week seeking to stop the showing of the movie "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," which stars rapper Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent. The movie is partly based on the life of Jackson, whose mother was killed in a drug deal.
"Take a stand, in light of the recent brutal attack and senseless murder of Matthew Pickett," Roblyn Hymes of Mitchellville and others wrote in a letter to the theater's management.
"The showing of this movie . . . perpetuates the same violent actions that happened to Matthew," the letter said.
A spokeswoman for Inland Management, which runs the mall, did not return calls yesterday. The theater's manager declined to comment and referred calls to a regional manager, who could not be reached late yesterday.
A giant billboard depicting 50 Cent holding a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other was removed from the theater after residents complained that it might draw a violent crowd.