Body believed to be that of promising D.C. Council intern is found in woods

By Matt Zapotosky and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 10, 2010; B01

Police removed a body believed to be that of a promising D.C. Council intern from a wooded area in Southeast Washington on Sunday afternoon, and family members said they think the young man was shot and killed a day earlier after a dispute with a man over a ride.

Alonte Sutton, 18, seemed an unlikely candidate to be touched by the violence that kills so many of his peers in Washington, family members and friends said. He was a good student at Ballou Senior High School and was set to graduate in June, family members said. Sutton worked last summer in the office of D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who was so impressed that he recommended him for a competitive year-long internship this year.

"We were extremely proud of him," Brown said Sunday. "We all knew this was a super kid."

District police have yet to officially confirm that the body removed from a wooded area off the 200 block of Newcomb Street SE, belongs to Sutton, but Brown and family members said the body was the teenager's. Sutton's relatives, gathered at the scene Sunday, said that they had not heard from Sutton since Saturday afternoon -- when he called his grandmother from her house in Bowie to ask when she would be home -- but that they had heard from witnesses that he had been shot on Newcomb Street sometime later.

Family members said witnesses told them that Sutton, who was seen Saturday putting tires on a car on Newcomb Street, had been in a dispute with a man after Sutton refused to give the man's girlfriend a ride somewhere. Sometime after that dispute, family members and friends said, the man returned with a gun and opened fire on Sutton, following him as he tried to flee into the woods.

"They said that they seen him get shot. He jumped over the rail and went down through the woods," said Wayne Sutton, Alonte Sutton's grandfather.

Why police did not find the teenager's body until Sunday remains unclear. Family members said they did not hear what had happened until Sunday afternoon, then launched a search for the teenager in the area. Leonard Kelley, 49, Sutton's uncle, said a witness told him that police responded to the shooting scene Saturday but that they did not go deep enough into the woods.

"He told the police two men went down there, one came up, but the officer who responded to the shots, he didn't even get out the car and go down there and check," Kelley said.

District Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said by e-mail Sunday that she could not yet respond to questions because the investigation was unfolding. Police spokesmen also said they could not confirm the victim's identity.

Police said late Sunday that they went to Newcomb Street on Sunday morning for a missing-person report and learned that the person was chased into the woods the day before by somebody who was shooting at him.

About 5 p.m. Sunday, officers pulled what appeared to be a body covered in a white cloth from a ravine, then loaded it into a chief medical examiner's van. Terriea Sutton, 34, Sutton's mother, cried before being given official word the body belonged to her son.

"How would you think I feel on Mother's Day to find out my son got killed?" she said later.

The body found Sunday had "several gunshot wounds," police said.

Sutton's Facebook page, listed under a nickname he frequently used, began receiving "RIP" messages Sunday afternoon. Early Saturday morning, Sutton indicated in a mobile update that he had been in some kind of dispute but gave no details.

Brown said Sutton was a quiet intern but stood out because he was smart and punctual. He was so trusted, Brown said, that staffers allowed him to sit at the front desk in the Wilson Building -- impeccably dressed in a navy blue jacket, tie and gray pants -- and answer calls from the public.

During public hearings on D.C. voting rights, he was assigned to give the council members written testimony from witnesses and to make sure copies were available for observers. And he was in charge of keeping the clock, making sure the witnesses did not exceed their allotted time to speak.

"You'd sit and talk to him, and he would contribute to the conversation," said Linda Wharton-Boyd, Brown's chief of staff. "My staff is going to be broken up."

Carlton Terry, a retired Foreign Service officer who is director of constituent services for Brown, mentored Sutton for the year and the two spoke often, sometimes about the teenager's struggle over his father being in prison.

"I told him, make sure you hang around with the right people all the time," Terry said. "You cannot imagine how much we talked about that. He wanted to be on the right track."

Sutton had once been involved in an effort by the group Peaceoholics to broker a truce between neighborhood crews, Ronald Moten, of Peaceoholics, said. He said the truce, would have been impossible without Sutton.

"He was a man that stepped up and helped us," Moten said. "He was one of the leaders. He had a lot of heart, and he started using his heart in the right direction."

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