Lanham area slaying victim Mwasiti Sikyala was no drug dealer, brother says

Two women and two children were found dead in filthy and deplorable living conditions above the garage of a home in the Lanham area early Friday morning.
By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2010

The aunt slain with her niece, nephew and sister-in-law Friday in what police have described as a drug-related homicide in the Lanham area was not a drug dealer living in squalor, the aunt's brother said Wednesday, but rather a hardworking woman who was hoping to finance her two daughters' higher education by exporting school supplies, clothes and other everyday items to Congo.

Flanked by his brothers and sisters holding pictures of their slain relatives, Kaituta Sikyala, the brother of Mwasiti Sikyala, said police officials' portrayal of his slain sister as living in squalor and being involved in a drug relationship with her killers was inaccurate. He said that Mwasiti Sikyala, one of seven siblings, was working to pack up and sell items the family had stored in the house of their deceased father and that she never used or dealt drugs.

"Our sister was an innocent victim," Kaituta Sikyala said Wednesday as he fought back tears in front of the family's house in Silver Spring. "She never smoked, consumed alcohol, used or dealt drugs."

Police have painted a different picture of Mwasiti Sikyala, saying her killing was the product of a drug relationship that soured.

Darrell Lynn Bellard, 43, of Dickinson, Tex., and T'keisha Nicole Gilmer, 18, of Texas City, Tex., are charged with first-degree murder in the slayings and are being held without bond. Police have identified the victims as Mwasiti Sikyala, 41; Shayla Shante Sikyala, 3; Shakur Sylvester Sikyala, 4; and Dawn Brooks, 38. Brooks was the children's mother, and Mwasiti Sikyala was their paternal aunt, authorities have said.

All were found Friday in the 6800 block of Third Street in a garage apartment in the Lanham area amid piles of trash and debris, police have said.

Law enforcement sources have said Bellard, a suspected drug courier, shot and killed Mwasiti Sikyala and Brooks because they failed to make good on a drug debt and killed the children possibly because he thought they could be witnesses to the crime.

Gilmer, also a drug courier, is believed to have blocked their escape, sources have said.

Police said late Wednesday they were sticking with their account of events.

"Unless new information develops, we have not had anything to dispute that at this time," said Capt. Misty Mints, a police spokeswoman, referring to the police stance that both of the adult victims were involved in the drug trade. "We are still classifying the homicide as drug-related."

Kaituta Sikyala said Friday that the trash and debris that police have described were actually toys, clothes and other items that Mwasiti Sikyala sold at flea markets or donated to the Salvation Army. He said his sister was living with family members in Silver Spring, adding that Brooks and the children were living in the garage apartment where their bodies were found and others lived in the main house nearby.

He also said the main home was being renovated and the garage apartment had a broken pipe, which explained why the property was in poor condition and the garage apartment had no running water.

Kaituta Sikyala said he was reluctant to speak about the case but felt compelled to do so to correct media reports. Shakur and Shayla, he said, were "ordinary American kids" who would visit D.C. museums together. Shakur, he said, played football, basketball, baseball and golf with his father, and he and his sister would dress up as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and pretend to be the "Star Wars" characters together.

Shayla, he said, was an avid "Dora the Explorer" fan who had learned to speak more Spanish than anyone in her house at only age 3.

And their aunt, Kaituta Sikyala said, was equally innocent. She had two older daughters of her own, including one who was set to attend college in the fall, he said. On the day of the incident, he said, she was simply preparing items to sell at a flea market.

Staff writers Dan Morse and Rick Rojas contributed to this report.

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