13-year-old Md. detainee key suspect in teacher's death

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By Matt Zapotosky and Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010

Police are questioning a 13-year-old boy in connection with the slaying of a teacher at a state-run juvenile detention center in Prince George's County, and three law enforcement sources say he is their main suspect in the case, now officially ruled a homicide.

The boy has not been charged, and it remains unclear exactly why or how he might have killed Hannah Wheeling, 65, of Bel Air, Md., a teacher of general studies at the Cheltenham Youth Facility.

Greg Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman, said late Friday that Wheeling died from "multiple blunt-force trauma injuries." Wheeling also appeared to have been sexually assaulted, law enforcement sources have said.

Wheeling's body was found by another employee outside the facility's Murphy Cottage about 7:45 a.m. Thursday. Despite his age, the boy is big enough to have overpowered Wheeling, one of the sources said. All of the sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the boy has not been charged.

The boy has been moved to another facility while detectives continue their investigation one of the sources said.

Prosecutors are trying to determine what criminal charges the boy should face because Maryland law requires them to get a waiver by a juvenile court judge to try someone younger than 15 as an adult.

The incident raises questions at a facility with a difficult past. The suspect had been staying in Murphy Cottage, which sits outside the fence at Cheltenham and houses about 20 boys without any history of major mental illness or violent crime, such as murder, first-degree assault or first-degree sex offense, said Jay Cleary, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, which runs Cheltenham.

Cleary declined to comment specifically about the 13-year-old, but he said Juvenile Services officials "will be commencing an investigation into the security protocols of the Murphy Cottage and determine whether those security protocols were followed on the day of the incident."

Cleary would not say what those protocols are. But a source familiar with operations at Cheltenham said the youths are supposed to be in the line of sight of a staff member 24 hours a day.

Shipley said a preliminary investigation found that Wheeling arrived at the school at 8 a.m. Wednesday and probably did not leave that night. It is unclear when she was killed.

Shipley said those housed in Murphy Cottage were allowed to walk throughout the building and would have had access to the area where Wheeling's body was found. He declined to say whether police had any suspects Friday.

"All I can say is it's progressing well, and that's where we are," he said.

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