By Allison Klein and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
The 12-year-old Prince George's County boy charged yesterday with killing his mother and brother over the weekend would often wear masks to hide his face, get into fistfights and tell people, "I'm crazy. Don't mess with me," neighbors said.
He would walk around his Forestville neighborhood with his face cloaked by a bandanna and a book cover on his head to look as if he had horns, according to neighbors.
In Prince George's juvenile court yesterday, he was charged as a juvenile with two counts of first-degree murder in the bludgeoning deaths of his mother, Katrina Denise Powe, 31, and brother, Mystery Toma Hillian, 9.
Detectives found a metal bar that they said is the weapon used in the slayings. They were trying yesterday to determine a motive for the crime. "I haven't heard any word as to why this kid did this," said Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a police spokesman.
The case is puzzling to detectives, especially because the suspect did not have an arrest record or documented history of abuse, according to law enforcement sources who did not want to be identified because the case is open and because juvenile records are sealed.
The county's Department of Social Services has no record of alleged abuse in the home, according to one of the sources. The source said that police found bruises on the 12-year-old but that it was "unclear whether they were from the struggle or prior abuse."
Law enforcement sources originally said that the crime was carried out with a knife. Yesterday, they said the weapon was a metal bar, the type usually used to secure a car's steering wheel to prevent theft.
The boy's name is being withheld because he is a juvenile. He was represented at the hearing by a public defender.
He was charged as a juvenile because by Maryland law, a person younger than 14 cannot be charged as an adult with murder, said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Prince George's state's attorney's office.
If he is found "involved," which is the juvenile court equivalent of guilty, he probably will be remanded to a program for troubled youths. He can be held until he is 21.
Judge Melanie M. Shaw Geter, chief administrative judge for the juvenile court, ordered a psychiatric evaluation of the boy, who is being held at the Cheltenham Youth Facility. His merits hearing, which is akin to a trial for juveniles, is scheduled for May 15.
Police found the metal bar in a drainage ditch near the apartment Powe shared with her sons. The family had lived for about a year in the Penn Mar Apartments, a development of beige, garden-style buildings in the 3700 block of Donnell Drive between Pennsylvania Avenue and Suitland Parkway.
The bodies were found in the family's second-floor apartment about 11 a.m. Sunday.
Investigators said the 12-year-old beat his mother and brother with the metal bar sometime between midnight Saturday and 1:30 a.m. Sunday. He then went to a friend's house to sleep and came back to his apartment in the morning. That was when he called 911, according to investigators.
Yesterday, the apartment's door was sealed with tape marked "evidence." Outside the apartment, someone tied balloons to a balcony railing and placed two bouquets of flowers at the entrance.
Neighbors described Powe as a single mother who held two jobs to pay the bills.
Last night, a candlelight vigil was held at the apartment complex for the two victims, and among those present were women who worked with Powe as housekeepers at a Marriott Residence Inn in Southwest Washington.
"She was a really nice person," said Clara Oscar, one of the women. "Her kids were her number one priority."
"She loved her sons to death," Oscar said.
A source said the 12-year-old's father, who lives in North Carolina, was on his way to Maryland yesterday. It was unclear whether he was also the father of the younger child.
Several people said they frequently saw Mystery and his brother in fights with other boys. A neighbor said she pulled the brothers off an autistic child whom they were beating about a month ago at a playground in the complex. The neighbor, who did not want to be identified because the case is open, said she reported the incident to the property manager.
The property manager declined to comment.
Another neighbor, Kel Taylor, 16, said he knew both boys and sometimes played basketball and football with the 12-year-old. He said the boy liked sports and video games and had a girlfriend.
Taylor said the boy would wear masks on his face, "thinking it looked cool."
He said that when the boy would get into fights, which was often, he would hit people in the face with sticks and tell them: "I'm crazy. Don't mess with me."
According to Taylor, the elder boy was protective of Mystery, who Taylor said was nicknamed "Mookie" and was a bit of a troublemaker.
"He was the little boy in the neighborhood who was always trying to act bad," Taylor said.
However, Sharita Wallace, 20, one of the organizers of last night's vigil, said that fellow residents of the complex "loved Mystery. He was a happy little child."
Another resident who lives near the family's apartment recalled hearing cries of "mommy, mommy" and noises about the time police said the killings occurred.
Last night, one of Powe's co-workers told a reporter that Powe had recently become increasingly worried about her older son, fearing that he was trying to start a gang.
Mystery and his brother were students at Benjamin D. Foulois Elementary School. Yesterday, school officials sent home letters to parents explaining the tragedy.
The letter expressed sorrow at the deaths and offered counseling and practical advice. "Referring to death as going to sleep or passing away may cause confusion. It is important that you use the word death," the letter states.
One woman at the Penn Mar Apartments said her 7-year-old granddaughter knew Mystery because they were in the same class. She was standing with another woman, who identified herself as Linda Parker, who knew Powe and would deliver newspapers to her.
"This is not the way to go. These children have to talk to somebody," Parker said. "If you can't talk to your mother, then talk to your grandmother. These kids are not as bad as they are sick."
Staff writers Nick Anderson, Martin Weil and Ovetta Wiggins and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.