Mother and Son's Slaying Mystifies Community

By Christopher Twarowski and Aaron Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Police urged Dale City residents to secure their properties yesterday after an unknown assailant shot and killed a mother of four and her eldest teenage son in their house on a quiet cul-de-sac in the Prince William County community.

Jean Claire Smith, 39, and her son, James Marshall Smith, 19, were found dead at their home in the 13600 block of Langford Court on Friday, police said. Police ruled the incident a double homicide after autopsies were completed yesterday.

Authorities said they were called to the scene just before 3 p.m. by a younger sibling of the Smith family, who had returned home from school and discovered the body of his brother. Police found the body of the boy's mother once they entered the house.

Police had the perimeter of the Smith home sealed off with yellow tape yesterday as detectives continued to question neighbors and study the crime scene. Four police vehicles were parked in front of the house as officers led dogs through the family's back yard. Distraught friends and schoolmates of the victims dropped off flowers with notes of support at a stop sign on the corner of the cul-de-sac.

"This is unusual to begin with," said Erika Hernandez, a Prince William County police spokeswoman. "We do ask the citizens to secure their homes, keep the lights on on the front porch, the rear lights of the residences. Take safety measures and call the police if they see or hear anything suspicious. If they have information, to call."

The slayings gripped many in the Woodbridge neighborhood yesterday. Friends passed the tiniest bits of news back and forth in phone calls, e-mails and text messages. Online, tributes popped up on Facebook and MySpace, where hundreds of current and former C.D. Hylton Senior High School students listed Jean and James Smith as friends.

One woman cried as she left a bouquet at the makeshift tribute. She had two small children with her, and afterward drove away.

Phones rang throughout the school district with a recorded message from C.D. Hylton Principal Carolyn Custard announcing that Hylton would open from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today for grief counseling.

"It's still unbelievable," said Dianne Anderson, a close friend of Jean Smith's in the Hylton Chorus boosters club. Smith's and Anderson's oldest children are the same age, she said, and the two had been working together this week to plan the choir's next annual trip, to New York City.

"She was a second mom to every child in the choir. 'Mama Smith,' they called her, and they treated her with the respect and love you would treat a mother," Anderson said, juggling calls yesterday from tearful students and parents on her home phone and cellphone.

Jean Smith was seen inside C.D. Hylton about 1 p.m. Friday, less than two hours before police say her body and her son's were found inside their house. She was following a group of chorus students singing Christmas carols up and down the hallways, snapping pictures and smiling, Anderson said.

Her two oldest children, Sarah, a college senior, and James, a college sophomore, had arrived home for Christmas days earlier from James Madison University, and her youngest son was finishing class at Enterprise Elementary School, friends said.

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