Fairfax County police said yesterday they have made an arrest in the brutal beating death of 8-year-old Destiny Souza, charging a 25-year-old man who had lived for several months in the girl's Newington home.
Robert A. Miller, described as a boyfriend of the girl's aunt, was being held without bond in the county jail. His lawyer, Glenn L. Clayton, said he feared his client had made "incriminating" statements while being questioned by police Monday night. Clayton said he would request that Miller undergo a court-ordered psychiatric examination.
Clayton, who interviewed Miller for two hours yesterday, said there were gaps in Miller's explanation of what he was doing Monday afternoon. "He can recall portions, and he can explain portions of what happened, but other parts are blank. Did he arrive predisposed to kill anyone? Absolutely not."
Destiny's mother, Kathleen Souza, found the child about 3:30 p.m. Monday when she got home from work. Because Fairfax elementary schools close two hours early on Mondays, Destiny had returned home alone about 1:20, according to friends.
An autopsy revealed that the second-grader's injuries included a fractured skull, a ruptured liver and broken bones, according to Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who said it was one of the worst beatings he had ever seen.
Police said they had not established a motive in the killing.
Miller's lawyer said Miller and Destiny's aunt had moved into the Souzas' town house earlier this year from Lancaster, Pa. Clayton said Destiny's mother, Kathleen Souza, kicked them out of the house, in the 8400 block of Sugar Creek Lane, several weeks ago.
The couple moved to a house in the 7800 block of Odell Court in Springfield.
Clayton said he did not know why Miller and his girlfriend were asked to leave the Souzas' house.
Miller, who is unemployed, was about to begin a new job at McDonald's, but Clayton said he did not know in what capacity.
Friends in the neighborhood said that Destiny had spent considerable time during the summer in Miller's company.
One boy who went to school with Destiny said he often saw the two together at the area swimming pool last summer. Like many of the neighborhood kids, the boy knew Miller as Destiny's "uncle."
"He seemed very nice. He was always around. He was always with Destiny," said the boy, whose mother asked that he not be identified. "He'd always be nice to Destiny."
Destiny's death touched a raw nerve in the community, which is still shocked by the slaying of 10-year-old Rosie Gordon and the disappearance of 5-year-old Melissa Brannen last year.
"What we're concerned about right now is the safety of our children," said Willie Jackson, the mother of an 8-year-old who went to school with Destiny. "We just want to know that it is the right guy."
Jackson said several parents have talked about creating a network to watch out for the neighborhood's many latch-key children. "We want to be able to look out for the children," Jackson said. "There need to be more parents watching their children."
A team of 12 psychologists and counselors was awaiting the arrival of Destiny's 835 schoolmates yesterday morning at Newington Forest Elementary School to help them cope with her death.
Before the school day started, the principal met with teachers to help prepare them for the reactions of their students.
Yesterday afternoon, a Fairfax school district security guard greeted children when a school bus dropped them off in the neighborhood. And a school official joined several mothers in walking the children home.
Dellarease Butts, who lives next door to the Souzas, said Miller's arrest came as a surprise. Butts said her family took in Miller and his girlfriend -- Destiny's aunt -- when the couple and their baby were kicked out of Destiny's house early this month. He was always gentle, she said.
"The crime just doesn't fit him," Butts said. "He was always polite. He was never rude."
Souza was not at her home yesterday. A man who answered the door but declined to be identified said, "She's not in very good spirits."
When asked about a motive for the fatal beating, he said, "We're asking the same thing."
Neighborhood children said their schoolday was punctuated by talk of Destiny. A first-grader said her entire class spoke with a teacher about the girl's death. Her brother, a sixth-grader, said some children cried or prayed or talked about how they carried baseball bats to bed for protection Monday night.
"My son did not sleep last night," Jackson said. "He said, 'Why that little girl, momma?' "
One of Destiny's best friends, Davida, a daughter of Dellarease Butts who used to play Nintendo with Destiny, spoke of her friend in the present tense.
"She's shy," Davida said, adding, "when you get to know her, she likes to play around."