Ex-Schoolmate Held in Va. Slayings
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
A teenage neighborhood burglar broke into a Dale City home last week, shot and killed a former schoolmate he unexpectedly found asleep on the couch and then killed the teen resident's mother when she got home and tried to call police, Prince William County authorities said yesterday.
In the end, police officials said, the 17-year-old left the house with personal items worth less than $1,000.
The suspect's arrest, announced yesterday, calmed a neighborhood that was in disbelief and fear over the seemingly random slayings of Jean and James Smith, members of a family that was well known and active in the community. Police credited tips from the neighborhood and old-fashioned mug shots -- the juvenile had a history of burglaries in the area, they said -- for the quick arrest.
Hundreds of students, parents and friends huddled in the bitter cold outside C.D. Hylton Senior High School last night for a candlelight vigil to honor the family and express relief about the arrest.
Loved ones took to the microphone to share stories. Jean Smith's husband, Rick; daughter, Sarah; and son Connor thanked the community for its support and recalled Jean's and Jim's passion for life. "I look around at all these people and know it's going to be okay," Sarah Smith said.
The slayings occurred Friday afternoon, police said, when the suspect was surprised to find James M. Smith, 19, on the couch. Fearing Smith could identify him, the teenager shot him, police said. Smith's mother came home a short time later, saw her dead son -- still under his blanket -- and tried to call police before she was shot, too, police said.
Authorities said the juvenile was a neighborhood acquaintance of the Smith family and a junior at James Smith's old high school, where Jean Smith was still an active volunteer. "He probably killed both of them to protect his own identity," said one law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing. "I guess he thought he'd get away with it."
The Washington Post generally does not name suspects charged in juvenile court. Prosecutors said they would seek to have the youth tried as an adult.
On Sunday, police arrested the juvenile and charged him with the two slayings, capping a nonstop investigation that began about 3 p.m. Friday, after Jean Smith's 16-year-old son, Connor, came home and saw what had happened, according to police and court records.
The slayings gripped the neighborhood and Hylton, where the alleged killer was enrolled along with Connor Smith and where Jean Smith was known as an enthusiastic and dedicated "SuperMom" who relished helping with school activities.
"A stay-at-home mom who volunteered at the school and a college kid home at Christmas break -- you don't see murders like that," Prince William Police Maj. Ray Colgan said. "This is a very decent, loving family."
James Smith and Sarah Smith, who was not home at the time of the slayings, were both in Dale City for the holidays from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.