Prince George's Killing, Apparently Planned, Opens Host of Mysteries

Kanika Powell had a high-security job, and strange men had come to her door before she was shot.
Kanika Powell had a high-security job, and strange men had come to her door before she was shot. (Family Photo)
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By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Kanika Powell suspected something when the man knocked on her door claiming to be an FBI agent. He held a badge up to her peephole but walked away when Powell refused to open up without seeing a photo ID.

Five days later, there was another knock at the door of her Laurel area apartment. This time a different man, who said he was delivering a package. When Powell again refused to open the door, he also left -- no package, no note where it could be claimed.

Five hours later, Powell was outside her door after returning from errands. Someone was waiting in the hallway and opened fire, riddling her with bullets. She died a day later, this past Friday, and police have no idea why she was killed.

Her slaying has all the trappings of a television drama: e-mail messages Powell, 28, left behind about the strange men coming to her door; her mysterious career at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where she worked as a security specialist; the FBI's insistence that none of its agents approached the woman; and investigators who say they can find no apparent motive for her killing -- no spurned lover, no robbery, no signs of gang activity, nothing.

"At this point, we haven't ruled out any avenue of investigation or motive, other than that it was random," Detective Kelly Rogers of the Prince George's County police said yesterday.

Rogers said police arrived at Powell's home four minutes after she called 911 Aug. 23, after the encounter with the man who identified himself as the agent. Officers canvassed Powell's apartment complex but found no one matching the description she'd given them.

Powell had also reported the incident to the apartment complex and told friends and colleagues. "It appears she did everything she could," Rogers said. Yesterday, Rogers and Powell's family began circulating fliers announcing a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or indictment. Police are asking anyone with information to call the county's Crime Solvers hotline at 866-411-TIPS (8477).

Powell's family and friends say they cannot fathom a reason for the killing. Her wallet and keys were found with her. They said she had no enemies.

"She was just living a normal life," said her mother, Judy Forrest. "It doesn't add up. Somebody knows something, and they're holding on to it, and we don't know why."

Powell was a 1998 Largo High School graduate who enlisted in the Army in 2000, served in Korea and worked as a security contractor and then at the Hopkins laboratory. Powell still had a close group of girlfriends from high school. She had never married and had no children. Court records show no criminal record, and police say they found nothing unusual or illegal in her apartment.

Michael Buckley, a spokesman for the Hopkins laboratory in Laurel, where scientists work on more than 400 homeland security and other research projects, said it was premature to speculate on whether Powell's death had any connection to her work.

Buckley said Powell had started at the lab as a contract worker in 2004 and had become a lab employee in 2006. He declined to name the lab Powell worked in or her title, citing the "nature of the work."

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