14-year-old accused in Southeast killings grew up in a world without innocence

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, April 17, 2010

"How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood, when fond recollections present them to view."

That line from Sam Woodworth's nostalgic poem "The Old Oaken Bucket" would seem an odd introduction to a column about the 14-year-old boy accused of driving the minivan in the South Capitol Street shootings that left four dead and five others wounded two weeks ago.

Woodworth wrote wistfully about his boyhood home in Scituate, Mass., which he had to leave at age 14. I think of the poem because I can't help but wonder what enters the mind of our 14-year-old minivan driver when he recalls the days of his youth.

Many of us, regardless of the circumstances of our births, have fond childhood recollections.

But what about him?

He was 9 years old when he had his first contact with juvenile court.

By the time he reached 14, he had become a veteran of the juvenile justice system. He twice escaped from a "residential treatment program" funded by the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and operated by Alternative Solutions for Youth out of a fenced-in house on upper 14th Street NW -- a short walk from my home.

Two Saturdays ago, three other juveniles escaped from the same place.

The 14-year-old, now securely detained, is facing 41 counts in the South Capitol Street slayings, including first-degree murder while armed, attempted murder while armed and assault with intent to kill. The city also added charges of reckless driving and driving without a permit.

Writing almost 200 years ago, Woodworth longed for the peaceful summers of his childhood. Our 14-year-old's summer, if he doesn't escape again, will be spent in detention.

Of course, the chances of his being found guilty ("adjudicated," in family court parlance) on all 41 charges are as likely as a mule's winning at Pimlico. Some charges may be pleaded down to lesser offenses. Others may be dropped altogether.

The only guaranteed outcome is that after the lawyers and court officials have their say, the 14-year-old will remain committed to the custody of the city's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services -- the same agency that was supervising him the two times he escaped detention. He was still under DYRS supervision while he was allegedly participating in the mass shootings.

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