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Friends Hurt, Family Haunted After Va. Teen Is Slain by Officer

Katie Burton, left, and Susan Rauch, former classmates of Brown's, read a newspaper clipping left among mementos placed on a fence near the IHOP where Brown was killed.
Katie Burton, left, and Susan Rauch, former classmates of Brown's, read a newspaper clipping left among mementos placed on a fence near the IHOP where Brown was killed. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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By Michelle Boorstein and Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 27, 2006

Aaron Brown's music textbook, "The Grateful Dead: Annotated Lyrics," still lay yesterday on the living room coffee table, where the 18-year-old college student had left it. Photos of the grinning, long-haired Eagle Scout were on nearly every surface of his family's small, single-story Springfield home, with images of a shirtless Aaron on stage with his guitar, a tuxedoed Aaron at the prom, Aaron posing with his parents.

And everywhere were the regrets.

"We are devastated," Jeff Brown said last night. "We can't believe our beautiful son is dead over a stupid check."

Aaron Brown was shot about 3:40 a.m. Saturday by an off-duty Alexandria police officer in the parking lot of an International House of Pancakes on Duke Street near Landmark Mall. An IHOP employee had told the officer that Brown and three friends left the restaurant without paying.

The officer, who was in uniform and working security at the restaurant, tried to stop their 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee and said it was threatening to hit him when he fired, according to police.

"The car was coming toward him, and he was in fear for his life," Amy Bertsch, an Alexandria police spokeswoman, said yesterday.

The driver, Stephen J. Smith, 19, of Alexandria, was later charged with driving while intoxicated and possession of marijuana.

As Brown's fellow graduates from Annandale High School railed against the unidentified officer and Smith yesterday, Jeff and Cheri Brown set a more conciliatory tone. They said they were more haunted than angry that "such a lovable soul" could be gone so quickly.

"As far as the officer feeling threatened, that's what he said he felt; we weren't there," said Jeff Brown, who has the same long, brown hair, round face and warm brown eyes as his son.

Cheri Brown said she hadn't spoken with Smith, a friend of her son's since middle school and the one at the wheel of Jeff Brown's Cherokee when the officer shot. "But I'm sure he's going through a tough time," she said.

There was a very different reaction earlier in front of the dreary, pink stucco building that houses the restaurant and a Comfort Inn. Brunch-goers passed a makeshift memorial of photos of Brown and bunches of roses flapping in the frigid wind.

"The cop is to blame. I want his badge," said Susan Rauch, 19. She attended Northern Virginia Community College with Brown, traveled to Germany with him last summer with the Annandale high school choir and had gone to the prom with him and a group of other students.

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