By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 7, 2010; A01
Two women and two young children were found dead inside a squalid garage apartment in the Lanham area of Prince George's County early Friday morning, each fatally shot in a slaying that has detectives searching for a motive, police said.
Officers who were called to the residence in the 6800 block of Third Street just before 3 a.m. for a reported assault found the victims -- two women in their 30s, a 3-year-old-girl and a 5-year-old boy -- amid piles of trash and debris and containers of feces in an apartment above a detached garage. The victims had been living in filth and without air conditioning, running water and toilets, Prince George's Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said at a news conference Friday.
"The crime scene is very horrific," Hylton said. "It appears to be a landfill inside a home."
Hylton said that the crime "appears to be personal in nature" and that the killer or killers were "known to the victims." He said detectives made those conclusions based on the type of crime and how it was committed, but he would not elaborate. Hylton said detectives were interviewing "individuals of interest" who might have had some involvement in the killings, but he would not go so far as to say that police had the killer in custody.
"There's never an absolute in the police world," Hylton said.
Hylton was reluctant to answer many questions about the killings. He declined to identify the victims or specify the relationships between them, saying only that detectives suspected that one of the women might have been the mother of at least one of the children. He would not say anything about their lifestyle other than that they lived in squalor and appeared to have moved "from place to place." He declined to say how those factors could have led to their deaths or specify any motive. Asked why someone would kill children, he responded, "To send a message."
Two law enforcement sources said detectives were exploring whether the killings might have been drug-related, although they added that was just one possible theory. One of those sources said a large quantity of drugs had been taken from the house. But another source said the crime appeared to be personal and not necessarily about drugs. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
Piles of trash and other debris could be seen spewing out of the garage Friday afternoon. The wooden staircase leading to the apartment was in obvious disrepair. The exterior of the house itself, a split foyer with tan siding, appeared to be in better condition, but stacks of debris higher than five feet were visible through the open front door.
Capt. Misty Mints, a police spokeswoman, said late Friday that five or six tons of trash had been removed from the house and garage. Hylton and other officials said police found feces in containers inside the house and garage along with evidence of a rodent infestation.
Online county records indicate that since 1993 the property has been owned by Mukala Sikyala and Silwano Sikyala. Records indicate that Mukala Sikyala died in 2008. Efforts to reach Silwano Sikyala or other family members were unsuccessful.
Police said the victims rented the property.
Police cadets wearing shoe coverings, full jumpsuits and face masks combed through the rubble Friday afternoon, searching for evidence. Mints said the house was cited on Feb. 10, 2009, for open storage of trash and debris, a fence in disrepair, and open storage of a dismantled and inoperable car. Those problems were fixed later that month. Donald Shell, the county's health officer, said the residence had never previously been cited by the Health Department, although those citations generally stem from citizen complaints.
Omar Avalos, 16, who lives down the street, said he and his family were awakened by investigators early Friday who wanted to know whether they had heard anything unusual. He said he had never before even walked near the house, which sits just off Third Street in a moderately wooded area.
"It's kind of creepy, you know?" Avalos said of the shootings. "We didn't expect any of this."
Police officials said the four victims were living with others in the home or the garage apartment where the bodies were found. Hylton said many of those who lived in the home, including some of the victims, had come from Congo. Whoever called police to report the assault remained on the scene when detectives arrived, but Hylton would not say how that person was related to the case except that he or she was a "person of interest."
Cries and screams could be heard coming from the area of the house Friday, and some family members or friends made their way past the police tape. They declined to speak with reporters.
Staff writers Ruben Castaneda, Maria Glod and Hamil R. Harris and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.