Ezekiel Babendreier, 18, who graduated June 3 from Damascus High School, was so eager to tell his good friend Tim Benenati about his post-graduation "beach week" in Ocean City that he visited him at work Saturday soon after he got home.
Yesterday afternoon, Benenati and many other classmates of Babendreier's were saddened and shocked by the violent death of their friend, who was known for his sense of humor and pleasant disposition. Babendreier died after being stabbed early yesterday near a Germantown home where he attended a birthday party.
Police said that Babendreier and an unidentified friend were talking to three unknown males about 1:30 a.m. outside the house in the 22300 block of Canterfield Way and that the discussion turned into an argument. Babendreier was stabbed multiple times in the torso, according to a law enforcement source.
He was pronounced dead at 2:29 a.m. at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, according to police.
Babendreier was on the Damascus High football team, which in December lost to Suitland High School in Prince George's County in the Class 4A state football championship.
He played offensive and defensive tackle. Head Coach Dan Makosy described Babendreier as well-behaved and mild-mannered. "He got along great with his teammates," Makosy said. "They all loved him."
Matt Reidy, a running back on the team that went 12-2 this season, said Babendreier was always in a good mood. "This just comes out of nowhere," Reidy said of the fatal stabbing. "You could never imagine him getting in a fight, never imagine him starting any trouble."
Benenati was at home yesterday, trying to understand what had happened to his friend, whom he had known since elementary school. They grew up about a quarter-mile from each other, he said.
"He was a unique person," said Benenati, 18, who graduated with his friend but was unable to go to beach week. "He was one of a kind. I don't think there was anyone else in the world like him. He would talk to anyone; it didn't matter who it was. . . . He would never get in a fight. This comes as a shock. I have no idea why anybody would do this to him."
Benenati said in a telephone interview that Babendreier recently landed a job at Dick's Sporting Goods and that he was always "bragging" to his friends about how many canoes he had sold.
The party Saturday night was to celebrate the 19th birthdays of Josh and Ben Zalusky, twins who graduated from Damascus High a year ago and were home from their freshman year at college.
Katy Wheaton, the twins' mother, said she and her sons met Babendreier a couple of weeks ago at a graduation party. "He's like a big bear of a kid," she said. "Lovable and affable."
She said she was impressed with how articulate he was, adding that he didn't just "grunt" at her the way so many teenagers do.
About 20 friends showed up, Wheaton said, and were having a good time eating the cake. "We even sang 'Happy Birthday,' " she said in an interview in the living room of her Germantown home. "These are the best kids."
For the most part, the partygoers, mostly friends from high school and college, were hanging out in the basement, playing pool and watching movies on the plasma television that has made Wheaton's home an attractive hangout for her sons' friends, she said.
Everyone at the party was invited, she said, and she knew everyone there.
She said she went to bed at 12:30 a.m. and didn't awake until one of her sons outside the house called about an hour later on his cell phone and said Babendreier had been stabbed.
Wheaton said the victim and another party guest had gone to Babendreier's truck, possibly to get a cigar, when they encountered the three men.
The police interviewed the partygoers, including the friend who had gone outside with Babendreier, Wheaton said.
The crime occurred in an upscale suburban neighborhood not accustomed to police lights in the middle of the night. "The police told me they never [are called] into this neighborhood, not even for petty crimes," Wheaton said.
The principal at Damascus High, Robert Domergue, said Babendreier was an honor roll student who planned to attend Salisbury State University in the fall.
He said Babendreier has a younger brother who is a sophomore at Damascus.
"He was a fine young man," Domergue said. "This is a real tragedy."