Three-year-old Destiny Array Spicknall died in a Baltimore hospital yesterday, one day after her father was accused of shooting her and her 2-year-old brother, and police began to investigate how Richard Wayne Spicknall II had bought a gun after his wife had a restraining order against him.
Federal law prohibits people under court-issued restraining orders from buying a gun for one year, but state police said Spicknall bought a 9mm handgun at a College Park pawnshop exactly nine months after his wife obtained an order against him in Howard County Circuit Court. Checking the database of persons prohibited from making gun purchases, the Howard County sheriff found that a notation barring Spicknall from buying any weapons had been removed in January.
"We have no idea how that happened," said Sheriff Charles Cave. "It was not an intentional thing, I believe. It was a mistake. Something fell through the cracks."
Maryland State Police charged Spicknall, 27, of Laurel, with an additional count of first-degree murder yesterday after Destiny was pronounced dead at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center at 2:45 p.m. Spicknall was already charged with first-degree murder and a handgun charge in the death of his son, Richard Wayne Spicknall III.
Police say the boy was already dead when he and his sister were discovered at 7:45 a.m. Thursday still strapped into their safety seats in the back of a blue 1998 Jeep Wrangler. Construction workers found the vehicle parked behind a house under construction on a secluded road less than a mile from the Eastern Shore bridge where Spicknall initially told police he'd been carjacked by an armed hitchhiker.
Yesterday, in a one-courtroom courthouse in Talbot County, the children's father stood in shackles and handcuffs with his head bowed as District Court Judge William K. Adkins III ordered him held without bond and his lawyer requested a psychological evaluation.
"Outside of these allegations, this defendant is basically an all-American young man," Baltimore lawyer Michael Belsky told Adkins. "He has basically been a hard-working, family-loving man all his life."
Meanwhile, six police divers armed with underwater metal detectors searched for the gun in the river beneath the Frederick C. Malkus Jr. Memorial Bridge, but did not find it, police said.
It was supposed to have been a week of fun at the beach with the grandparents.
But as Spicknall drove his father's Jeep Wrangler east on Highway 50, past the Eastern Shore's corn and soybean fields on a muggy night with his two children strapped in back, he had a lot to think about.
His four-year marriage was ending in divorce, and he and his wife were arguing over custody of Destiny and little Richie, court records show. For now, they were sharing custody, and Richard Spicknall had the children Wednesdays through Sundays. His wife had granted special permission for him to take the children for a few extra days with Spicknall's parents in Ocean City, relatives said.
"He closed up after the divorce," said an uncle of Spicknall's, who asked that his name not be used. "All he talked about was those kids. They were the center of his life."
Earlier this week, Belsky said, Spicknall had lost his job at the ESPN Zone, a sports bar and restaurant at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. A bankruptcy judge had wiped out Spicknall's $42,000 debt in August, but he had just over $1,000 in the bank, Spicknall told a court commissioner after his arrest.
After tucking his two children into their car seats, Spicknall set off for Ocean City about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, state police said. Six hours later, police said, a man fishing along a pier on the Choptank River about 90 miles east of Washington called 911 after hearing someone screaming offshore in the darkness.
Thinking it was a drowning, the state police dispatcher referred the call to the Department of Natural Resources police for a water rescue. Ten minutes later, police received another 911 call, according to charging documents.
This time, the caller told state police that the man in the water had emerged and was saying he had been carjacked and thrown from the nearby Malkus Bridge. Spicknall took the phone and told police that he'd stopped for a hitchhiker on the bridge about 11:30 p.m. and that the hitchhiker then pulled a gun, threw him over the bridge and sped away in the Jeep with his children still inside.
Spicknall, dripping wet, had a scrape on his head. But police wanted to talk to him more.
Chris Price heard about the carjacking on the radio as he drove to work Thursday morning. He thought the whole thing sounded suspicious, but the license plate of the Jeep that police were looking for--RONI2--stuck in his mind.
When he arrived at his roofing job--a 7,500-square-foot house on Bolingbroke Point Drive, within sight of the Malkus Bridge--a man who'd been mowing the lawn at a vacant brick house nearby asked Price if the Jeep parked behind the house was his.
Price walked to the Jeep and peered at the tag: RONI2.
When troopers arrived, they broke one of the Jeep's windows.
"Get the medical bag!" a trooper yelled to his colleague. Then he asked for water, and Price got a jug from his truck.
Price heard the troopers soothing the little girl with words and water from the jug. Troopers then carried the little boy and girl, still dressed in street clothes and strapped in their car seats, to the ambulance.
Then Price helped troopers wrap the construction site in yellow crime scene tape.
"It was a lot like they knew what they were going to find," Price said. "I thought it, too."
At 8:59 a.m., at the police barracks just 12 miles west in Easton, state police detectives read Spicknall his rights.
State police said yesterday that they believe Spicknall actually did plunge into the Choptank River but that he wasn't thrown 50 feet from the bridge's middle span.
Instead, they believe Spicknall shot his children in the Jeep near the fishing pier about 11 p.m., ditched the vehicle about one-third of a mile down the road, locked the doors, then walked about a mile back along the gravel road to the bridge and jumped, according to charging documents and sources.
Police are still investigating what happened in the four-hour span between the shootings and the time Spicknall swam ashore.
Yesterday, his estranged wife, Lisa, sat vigil by her daughter's side at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore until she died.
The couple had separated on Nov. 22, 1998, after arguing in their Laurel town house. She had gotten a restraining order against her husband on Dec. 2, 1998. In her divorce complaint filed in Howard County Circuit Court on Dec. 11, 1998, she said that her husband had assaulted her "on a number of occasions, causing her bodily injury."
On Aug. 18, Spicknall went to a pawnshop in College Park and applied for a permit to buy a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun. On his application, Spicknall indicated he was free of any restraining orders.
State police, checking the permit application, found only that Spicknall had been charged with, but not convicted of, assault in 1994, said police spokesman Maj. Greg Shipley. The restraining order against him never surfaced, Shipley said.
Spicknall picked up his new gun on Sept. 2.
Cave said he believes that the record was mistakenly removed, "almost certainly," by one of his own employees.
At a brief news conference to announce her daughter's death, Lisa Spicknall sat clutching two plush toys and a portrait of her two children, while a friend read a statement for her. "Her condition never improved, even with the hard work of the medical staff," Jeff Gross said.
In Laurel, a neighbor expressed disbelief about the charges against Spicknall, whom she described as a loving, deeply involved father to Richie and Destiny.
"If you had ever seen him with them--they were his whole world," she said.
Funeral arrangements are pending. A fund has been set up for individuals wishing to make financial contributions: Destiny and Richie Spicknall, c/o Provident Bank of Maryland, 7400-L Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, Md. 21061.
Metro staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Lisa Spicknall, estranged wife of Richard Spicknall II, is escorted into Dorchester County General Hospital by Ward Degrange on Thursday.
CAPTION: Richard Wayne Spicknall III and Destiny Array Spicknall were found shot Thursday morning.