By Clarence Williams and Del Quentin Wilber
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The man accused of killing 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes this month in Columbia Heights hanged himself at the D.C. jail Wednesday afternoon, jail officials said.
Josue Pena, 26, was found in his cell about 1 p.m., unconscious but alive, said Sylvia Lane, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Corrections. Efforts to revive him failed, and he died at Howard University Hospital about 1:45 p.m., Lane said. He used a bedsheet to hang himself, she said.
Lane said Pena died of cardiac arrest by asphyxiation. His cell was in the jail's special management unit, a place for inmates in need of "enhanced supervision" for security reasons, she said. Five officers are assigned to the unit, and they check inmates every 30 minutes. Lane said authorities were trying to determine how much time elapsed between the last check on Pena and his hanging.
Corrections officers assigned to the special unit found Pena, and no other inmates were in the cell, Lane said. The jail's private medical contractor and D.C. fire and EMS officials responded. She said there were no witnesses to the hanging.
Pena had been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting Oscar through his closed apartment door Nov. 14. The death shocked neighbors and city officials because of the age of the victim and the random nature of the crime.
Police and family members said Oscar lived on the second floor of a dingy building in the 1400 block of Columbia Road. He was standing behind the locked wooden door of his family's apartment, trying to get a glimpse through a peephole after a commotion outside. A man with a gun stood in the dim hallway just beyond the apartment door. The gunman fired blindly through the door, police said, and the bullet found Oscar, who was in the fourth grade.
Pena had tried to rob Oscar's family members outside the apartment and followed them into their building, police said.
Oscar's mother, Maritza Fuentes, had gone to a baby shower with others in her family. She returned to the apartment about 9:30 p.m. and was inside with her 54-year-old mother, Oscar and an older son when the trouble began outside, Fuentes's cousin Alicia Fuentes said in an interview last week.
Alicia Fuentes said she and four relatives were walking on Columbia Road after the shower, headed to Maritza Fuentes's apartment for a visit, when they passed a man outside the building. She said the man followed them inside, entering through the building's broken front door. Tenants have long complained about the cracked and warped door, which has no knob or lock.
"He came in behind us," Alicia Fuentes said. "When we were walking up the stairs, he said he wanted money." In an affidavit filed in court, homicide detectives said Pena told the group: "Your money or your life."
Alicia Fuentes said one of the relatives turned to the man and asked, "What's your problem?" She said she and the others hurried up the stairs to the apartment where Maritza Fuentes has lived for three years. "I was the last person into the apartment," she said. "He was coming to the door, and I told him to leave. I closed the door and put the chain on the door."
Then a single shot was fired.
Pena had been held without bail at the jail since his arrest Nov. 17.
Staff writers Paul Duggan and Theola Labbé-DeBose contributed to this report.