Md. Mother of Slain Boy Recalls Seeing Teens, Wondering if They Were a Gang
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
It's hard to imagine anything Jenny Adkins could have done differently to protect her 14-year-old son, Christopher.
She moved to a bucolic corner of Anne Arundel County, indulged his love of football and ice hockey to keep him from roaming suburban malls, and allowed him to wander unsupervised only along a mile-long tree-lined street between her home and that of her ex-husband, a Prince George's County sheriff's deputy.
Five weeks ago, when Christopher mistakenly found himself between two groups of school friends that had started calling themselves gangs, Adkins even swiftly moved her son to a different high school and began texting him every 30 minutes. Christopher joked that it was his mother, not other kids, stalking him.
But in a tranquil neighborhood, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, trouble found him nonetheless.
At a community pool down the street from her home, Adkins walked past a group of six or seven teens and fearfully wondered whether they might be part of the groups of youths that had taken to calling themselves the East Side Diamonds or The New Threat. The existence of the neighborhood crews had shaken her sense of safety in the solidly middle-class community of Crofton, where federal workers and many District and Prince George's police retreat to at night.
From the pool, Adkins sent a warning in a text message to Christopher, who was riding his bike nearby. He responded "I'm fine," Adkins said yesterday, fighting back tears as she talked outside her home, scrolling through her son's last messages on her purple Nokia phone.
Minutes after her phone buzzed a final time, two of the teens Adkins had spotted walked up to her son and punched him so hard that a few pedals later, Christopher fell to the ground, police said. He hit his head in the middle of the street his mother considered his safe zone and later was pronounced dead at Baltimore Washington Medical Center.
Several neighbors said Christopher was a good kid who sometimes carried books for a disabled student at school. His mother finds it hard to fathom how physically close she was to him and to the boys charged in his death.
"I never thought that a bike ride up the street would end his life. . . . I can't believe I saw that group walk toward where my son was, not knowing what was about to take place," said Adkins, 36.
On Sunday, Anne Arundel County police charged Javel George, 16, and a 14-year-old boy with manslaughter in Christopher's death. George was charged as an adult. The Washington Post does not identify youths charged as juveniles with crimes. Authorities yesterday backed off initial statements over the weekend that the youths "targeted" Christopher. They also said that although they are aware of groups of youths calling themselves gangs, they don't know whether the two charged were involved with them.
"We don't think they targeted him. They just came on him in the street, and the incident took place," said Capt. David Waltemeyer, head of criminal investigations for the Anne Arundel police. "They are neighborhood cliques and gangs. These aren't the Bloods and the Crips," he said.
According to police charging documents, George and the 14-year-old admitted hitting Christopher with their fists in the head and face. A witness saw Christopher try to pedal away and then collapse, the documents say.
Law enforcement officials familiar with gang activity in the Washington region said that before Saturday they had never heard of the two groups that might be connected to the slaying. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said the two groups appear to go by the abbreviations ESD and TNT. The two have presences on MySpace and appear to be connected to Arundel High School, which is not known for school violence. Christopher had been a freshman there until his mother pulled him out after a run-in with the groups about five weeks ago.
According to Adkins and her ex-husband, David Jones, a corporal with the Prince George's Sheriff's Department, that episode unfolded at Odenton Mall after a funeral for the mother of one of Christopher's friends from elementary school.
"They weren't friends that Christopher was allowed to spend time with because they had gone in different directions since [elementary] school, but I thought, for two hours what could go wrong? I knew they all wanted to be together after the funeral," Adkins said.
In that brief time, however, Christopher and his old elementary school friends saw some Arundel High students who identified themselves as members of ESD. They chased Christopher and his friends through the mall, according to Adkins, who said she later learned that Christopher's childhood friends considered themselves members of TNT.
"One of the boys from [ESD] told Christopher he better watch his back from now on," Adkins recalled. She and Jones said the incident occurred on a Wednesday. The next day, Adkins met with school officials, who promised to work with county police to assess the threat. Adkins said she wasn't convinced that police and the school would follow through and by the following Monday enrolled Christopher at South River High School.
"Anne Arundel police are oblivious to these groups and don't want to talk about it. The schools and the community don't want to admit it, either, but county residents need to know that these issues are here like everywhere else," Adkins said. "Don't let these pretty little brick homes fool you. It's not all it's cracked up to be."