By Matt Zapotosky, Josh White and Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; A01
One was a teenager who would cook eggs for his 3-year-old brother so his mom could grab a few extra hours of sleep. Another was an ice cream truck driver known to kids as the "Dollar Man" because his cold treats cost about a buck. A third was a physics and astronomy major at the University of Maryland who produced his own music and tutored athletes.
As February begins, Prince George's County homicide detectives are investigating 16 killings in the new year. These were victims five, six and 11. Like nearly all of the others, none of these victims knew one another. There is no evidence that their slayings were connected.
It is an inexplicable - maybe unavoidable - flare-up of death and mayhem in a county that wants desperately not to be defined by violence. Police insist that law-abiding residents have little to fear, because most victims were targeted by their killers, and many of those slain were selling drugs. But they cannot ignore the human toll: When you get killed in Prince George's, friends and relatives come to know your number.
"To Prince George's County, he's just number 11 of 2011," said Kara Sarvey, a close friend of U-Md. student Justin DeSha-Overcash, 22, who was slain Jan. 11. "I just want to give a face to number 11."
No. 11, friends and relatives said, was perhaps best known as a hard worker. He double-majored in physics and astronomy at U-Md. In addition to tutoring athletes, he worked in the campus observatory. When his mom fell on hard times, he helped pay her bills.
"He was so cool. He was so fun to talk to. He just made me happy. He made everybody happy," said Karen DeSha, DeSha-Overcash's mom.
DeSha-Overcash was shot to death in the College Park home he rented with others. Police and law enforcement sources have said the incident appears to have been a drug-related robbery, and investigators seized a large quantity of marijuana, scales and pot-laced lollipops from the home.
Family members and friends said they doubted that the drugs belonged to DeSha-Overcash. This was a college student who worked two jobs to put himself through school and still found time to blog about music, they said. This was a regular young man whose last conversation with his father was about whether national champion quarterback Cam Newton was going to go pro.
"This is not the kid that they're trying to make him out to be," said Randy Overcash, DeSha-Overcash's father. "This is a kid who would give you the last shirt that he had on his back, if you needed it."
Police had not made any arrests in the slaying.
Michael D. Layne Jr., victim No. 5, was the youngest of the 16. Layne, 19, of Temple Hills, had recently received a high school degree after finishing a home-schooling program. With his dying breath, he repeated his dream of one day owning a Monte Carlo.
Layne was killed Jan. 4 in a shooting that wounded three others. Law enforcement sources have called the incident a possible drug-related robbery. Police had not made any arrests in the incident, and the sources said Layne's group exchanged gunfire with their assailant.
Tracy Ellis, 41, Layne's mother, said a bullet only grazed her son's chest, but it caused his heart to stop.
Ellis said her son, who sometimes worked at the National Institutes of Health, spent most of his time in his family's home on Triton Court. There, he doted on his 3-year-old brother, Gregory, sometimes waking up with the preschooler and cooking him elaborate breakfasts so his mother could sleep.
"I guess they stereotype you for where you live and what you wear," said Ellis, who works at the NIH and has raised her son by herself since his father was jailed 18 years ago. "This wasn't a drug deal gone bad. Michael was just playing video games with his friends and was on his way home when a man came up on them."
Although he struggled briefly with marijuana use, Layne had entered a rehab program and had recently been declared clean, Ellis said. One more class, she said, and his record was going to be expunged.
"He was a generous, respectful, honest, loving young man," Ellis said. "And we had to bury him."
No. 7 was a student at Everest College in Arlington County who worked making sure that congressional offices had recycling bins. On the day he was killed, his stepfather said he had stopped by the young man's room to tell him to "just get up every day and do the best he could and leave the rest to God."
Maurice D. Valentine, 26, of Southeast Washington, was shot and killed Jan. 6 in a car parked in the 900 block of Central Hills Lane in Seat Pleasant. Police charged 17-year-old James E. Taylor in the slaying, which law enforcement sources said stemmed from a dispute over a sex act.
Edwin Young, 64, Valentine's stepfather, said his stepson had gone to two colleges and had worked with the Architect of the Capitol. Young said Valentine was a loving son who lived with his mother and stepfather and taught the household how to use a computer.
"He was serious about trying to do something with his life, but at the same time, he had a wonderful sense of humor," Young said. "Like anybody, I'm not saying he was perfect, but he was really a good kid."
The "Dollar Man" was No. 6. He was one of six siblings, and he had recently sold his car to finance his ice cream business, his brother said.
Terrance C. Hunter, 30, was killed during a drug robbery in the stairwell of an apartment building in the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, police said. According to charging documents, an acquaintance, Neil E. Lawrence, 31, had arranged for Hunter to sell six pounds of marijuana to Vincent E. Miles. The three met in the stairwell, where Miles, 31, shot Hunter and took a pound of marijuana from him, according to the documents. Miles and Lawrence were charged with murder.
David Hunter, 28, Terrance's brother, said that Terrance was a "fighter, and that he might have been killed because he "wasn't the type that would let somebody just take something from him." David Hunter said he did not know his brother to sell drugs.
"Me, I just know him as my big brother," David Hunter said. "He was down to earth. He was a funny guy. He was one of those people that not only protected his family but those around him, too."
No. 13 was a mother of three who cut hair at her home in Landover. She loved dancing at family parties - no matter what type of music was playing.
Alitha Mae Jenkins, 51, was found dead Jan. 7 in an industrial area in the 1700 block of Olive Street in Capitol Heights. Her death was ruled a homicide about a week later. Jenkins had previously faced drug- and prostitution-related charges, and law enforcement sources said investigators were exploring whether she was strangled by a customer.
Tris Jenkins, 21, said she learned of her mother's past when she found out she'd been killed. She said she did not think that defined her mom, especially in recent years.
"She was a very outgoing person," Tris Jenkins said. "Loved to make you laugh."
Jenkins said her mother leaves behind three children, including Tris's 27-year-old brother and a 9-year-old sister. She said that her mother was the third of five siblings and that she had worked at a toy store.
No. 14 was the father of a 2-year-old girl, and he was considering enlisting in the military, his sister said.
Douglas H. Jordan Jr., 22, of the District, was shot and killed Jan. 19 on a cul-de-sac on Terrace Drive in Suitland. Law enforcement sources said that his killing was drug-related and that he was carrying a large amount of marijuana.
Nikia Jordan, 27, said her brother was "just a family guy" who "wanted to do something positive with his life." He was a Redskins fan and enjoyed spending time with his daughter and nephews, she said.
"He believed in just doing well and being nice to people," she said.
Ansel Donovan Whitelocke, 58, was first, No. 1. Neighbors remembered him as a friendly guy who could be heard in the courtyard of his Chillum apartment talking loudly in a thick Jamaican accent. He was stabbed to death during a robbery orchestrated by a woman he was paying for sex.
Clifton Antion Turner, 42, was shot Jan. 4 in what appeared to be a targeted hit outside a Suitland nightclub - and he was buried three miles from the spot. He was No. 2.
Larry Junior Watkins, 38, was a Cowboys and Kobe Bryant fan who wanted his three daughters and one son to get an education. Police say he was killed in the same Jan. 4 drug hit as 28-year-old Mark Andrew Davis Jr. They were Nos. 3 and 4.
Alejandro Marcos Diaz Vasquez, 30, and Juan Moreno Aguilar, 25, were stabbed to death. Aguilar was thought to have been mistaken for a gang member and was attacked Jan. 10 by people in MS-13. Little is known about Vasquez's killing Jan. 8. They were Nos. 8 and 10.
Corteza Warren Livingston, 21, was shot Jan. 8 defending his brother, after the brother had gotten into a fight with his child's mother and some of her acquaintances. Donte D. Douglass, 18, who is charged with murder in Livingston's death, had an outstanding arrest warrant that had gone unserved for a year. Some law enforcement officials said that if the warrant had been served, Livingston would not have become No. 9.
Clyde Antwone Rosevelt Howard, 30, was killed with justification, police said - fatally shot Jan. 11 while trying to break into a home in New Carrollton. He was No. 12.
On Jan. 24, McKinney Antonio White Jr., 34, of District Heights was shot inside a car in the parking lot of the Penn Station shopping center in the District Heights area. He was No. 15.
Brandon Earl Baswell, 24, of Southeast Washington was shot to death outside the Plaza 23 nightclub in Temple Hills early Saturday. The motive was unclear, but investigators said they did not think it was connected to any of the other cases. He was No. 16.
Reporters and researchers searched court documents, voter registrations and other public records to try to find family members of these victims. They called phone numbers and left notes in doors. In some cases, no relatives could be reached. Others said they were too distraught or just too weary to speak publicly.
If these - the 16 people slain in Prince George's in the first month of 2011 - had been killed in two months, their names probably would have faded into obscurity. Homicide detectives would have quietly probed the details of their lives, hoping to find clues about why they were killed.
The slayings did not set a record for a single month in Prince George's. But in a county that has been rocked by a political corruption scandal and a leadership upheaval, they are a problem.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Interim Prince George's Police Chief Mark Magaw held a news conference recently on their efforts to solve and stop the killings. They said they were beefing up enforcement inside the Capital Beltway and asking federal agents to help local homicide detectives.
They made almost no mention of the faces behind the numbers.
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Staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.