Prince George's County police are studying security tapes from a Suitland convenience store and enhancing images of a group of young men they suspect of beating and kicking a high school student and then leaving him on a busy road, where at least two cars ran over him.
Police said yesterday that Michael Antonio Bassett, 18, and two friends apparently were attacked early Sunday morning because one of the assailants was enraged that Bassett had offered to buy a Slurpee for a girl outside a 7-Eleven store.
Bassett, a senior at Oxon Hill High School, was found dead on Silver Hill Road about 15 minutes later.
Bassett and his friends, who had stopped for cold drinks about 3:15 a.m. after going out dancing, were attacked even after Bassett apologized for offering to buy the Slurpee, police said. As many as eight youths pursued them, with gunshots fired at one point, said Cpl. Diane Richardson, a county police spokeswoman.
Officials said yesterday that they had not determined whether Bassett died from the beating or from the cars running over his body. Autopsy results from the state medical examiner's office have not been released.
Bassett's two friends were struck with fists but escaped without serious physical injuries, Richardson said. Their identities were not released because they are witnesses, she said.
The brutality of the attack and the apparently trivial motive behind it have prompted numerous people to call police with potential leads, Richardson said.
"We're getting a lot of tips from the community," she said. "A lot of people are outraged, as they should be. It's a terrible case."
Security video cameras inside and outside the 7-Eleven captured images of the attackers, Richardson said. Police might release the videotaped images to the public after they have been enhanced, she said.
Police are urging the attackers to turn themselves in, Richardson said. "We'd like to hear from the people who were involved, even if they were minimally involved," Richardson said.
Bassett was set to graduate from Oxon Hill next week.
His mother, Jeannie Bassett, said she found out what happened to her son when she received a call from one of his friends. "I just knew something was wrong when they called me and it wasn't him," she said.
She couldn't sleep, she said, and drove around, finally settling at her sister's house. Sitting in her apartment in Oxon Hill yesterday evening, she acknowledged that she was "just putting on a front" for the benefit of her family.
"This is just a shell of a body," she said. "Ask me how I'm making it, I don't know."
She reflected on the life of her son, who she said was an outgoing youth who flirted with everyone.
He also was protective of his mother. " 'Ma, don't you leave this house unless I know where you are going,' " Bassett said he told her, when he brought over a friend whose mother had been robbed. "He was my little bodyguard," she said.
Bassett said she thought her son was confident enough to make a fortune in the world, or at least enough to support his family. " 'Mom, I'm going to take care of you, and you won't have to work no more,' " she said he would tell her.
The family goes to church on Sundays, but Bassett said the incident has caused her to question her faith in God.
"I guess He took him because He didn't want him to suffer," she said. "To see him go through that torture, He thought it was best to bring him on home."
A neighbor, Dawn Hollinshead, 36, said she could not sleep Sunday night after she learned of Bassett's death.
Michael Bassett, she said, was "a nice guy, very respectful. Not a troublemaker by a long shot." Hollinshead said Bassett, who was known by the nickname "Block," sometimes helped her and her 12-year-old daughter carry groceries into their apartment.
"It's just devastating," Hollinshead said. "They have to do something with these teens. Maybe they need to hold the parents accountable. It makes you afraid. You can't say anything to anyone these days."
Hollinshead's daughter, Alexis Williams, said she cried when she learned of her neighbor's death.
"He apologized. I don't know why it wasn't squashed. He apologized," Alexis said.
Police and a 7-Eleven manager gave this account of the attack:
About 3:15 a.m., Bassett and two friends drove up to the convenience store at the corner of Silver Hill Road and Plaza Drive. The group of teenagers or young men who would attack Bassett were at the store. They had been hanging out there for about two hours, said the 7-Eleven manager, who declined to provide her name because she did not want to draw attention from the assailants.
Michael Bassett saw a girl standing outside the store and offered to buy her a Slurpee. The girl accepted. A young man who was nearby overheard the exchange and shouted threats.
Bassett apologized, and he and his friends tried to leave. But the angry man and his companions blocked their path and started punching Bassett and his friends, police said.
As the trio ran away, the attackers chased them, with at least one firing shots, police said.
Bassett was caught two blocks away, in the 5200 block of Silver Hill Road. There, the attackers beat and kicked him and left him on the road.
By the time police arrived at 3:30 a.m., Bassett was dead, officials said.
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.