The grandmother sat on the edge of her sofa, quietly crying. "I always begged Derrick to stay over here with me," she said inside her Benning Heights apartment in Southeast Washington. "There was so much trouble on that strip where his friends hung out. When he was over here, he was fine. All he did was play his music."
Derrick Ingram's music was go-go, the pulsating blend of funk and rap music that District youths began chanting on city streets and inside jammed recreation centers more than a decade ago. Often, the go-go beat booms angry messages about troubled lives in places such as the drug-riddled strip on Martin Luther King Avenue SE near the Barry Farms public housing project. That's where Ora Ingram said her grandson was last seen alive.
Last Friday afternoon, police found the body of 16-year-old Derrick Ingram. The former percussionist of the Junkyard Band, a local go-go group that has toured nationally, was lying dead behind a recreation center in the 3000 block of G Street SE. He had been murdered execution-style: his hands had been handcuffed behind his back and he had been shot twice in the head.
District police said yesterday they do not have any suspects in Ingram's slaying, and few clues. A police source said the murder appears to be drug-related, but would not say how. It is uncertain, the source said, if Ingram was robbed or if he had participated, perhaps accidentally, in a drug transaction gone sour.
"This whole thing seems awful strange," said Freddie Bethel, the former director of the Barry Farms Recreation Center, where the Junkyard Band first started playing. "Derrick was a good kid. He was always playing around the center, from the time he was in preschool up to a few years ago. I was always watching over him. And he never got into trouble. All he cared about was music."
Six years ago, Bethel helped create the Junkyard Band. Ingram, then only 9 years old, and about a dozen young teen-agers often came over to the center talking about how they wanted to make music, Bethel said, and they usually did just that with anything they found -- plastic buckets, cow bells, toy horns, soda bottles and cardboard boxes. None could afford to purchase musical instruments.
"They were all kids who loved to entertain," Bethel said. "They'd all come into my office, beating on my desk, beating on my file cabinets, you name it. Then some of us said, 'They got a pretty good beat. We ought to organize them.' So we did. I remember one day they were trying to think of names, and I said, 'All you guys got is junk. You got to be the Junkyard Band.' "
Bethel said he drove the band to many of its early performances at recreation centers and neighborhood events. After achieving prominence on the local go-go circuit -- two local producers filmed a video, "19th and M," about the group in 1985 -- the band signed a contract to appear around the country.
They participated in the movie "D.C. Cab," filmed in Washington a few years ago, and released a record nationally. The song was called "The Word," and it angrily denounced the government's attitude toward the poor. One lyric stated that their families had lost their government aid because "Reagan gave the Pentagon all the people's money."
Charles Stephenson, a District resident who has managed local go-go groups, said the Junkyard Band always has served as a model for the District's black youth. Band members had to do more than play go-go music; they had to do well in school. "This kind of murder is very surprising," Stephenson said. "All those guys were clean-cut and avoided trouble."
Ingram left the band, which is now working on an album and movie, last fall. His mother, 33-year-old Marion Ingram, said she forced her son to quit because his grades had dropped substantially and his attitude about school had changed.
"He was making money, so school wasn't important anymore," she said yesterday. "He thought music was going to take him everywhere. Well, I wanted him to understand that he needed school, too, or he wasn't going anywhere."
Ingram said her son was disappointed with leaving the band, but did not abandon his musical dreams.
"Derrick always kept practicing," his grandmother said. "He'd put on his Junkyard Band tapes and play and play."
Derrick lived with his grandmother in Benning Heights, but often visited his mother and 2-year-old sister, who lived in Barry Farms. Last Thursday night, family members said, Derrick went to run what they thought was a late-night errand to a local convenience store for a friend. Store owners have told them Derrick did not come by Thursday night.
So the family remains confused. They suspect one of Derrick's older friends may have led him into a trap, but they're not sure. Along with others, they doubt he could have been involved in the kind of high-stakes drug deals that lead to such a brutal slaying.
But Ora Ingram reluctantly admits that, even though Derrick's passion for music kept him off the street most of the time, he still had a few friends that she says were "up to no good."
"Derrick grew up with a lot of bad kids around him," Bethel said. "There were kids who would come around that center who had been in jail, or been arrested, or always bragging about they got around the police. None of that seemed to faze Derrick then, though. He loved being in the band."
When there had been a shooting or stabbing around Barry Farms, Derrick's mother said, he would come to stay with her and his sister. She said he feared they would get hurt and felt he had to protect them.
"He'd talk about how he was going to get so good in music that he would have enough money to move me," Marion Ingram said. "And I said, 'What do you mean move me?' And he'd say, 'Mom, music's going to make me famous, and when I go to Hollywood, I'm packing you and my sister in my suitcase.' He promised he was going to get us out of here."