The 15-year-old accused of fatally stabbing a girl the same age after a football game in Silver Spring on Friday is a stellar student with no criminal history, her father and defense attorney said yesterday.
"She is a very smart girl," the defendant's father said shortly before a judge decided at a court hearing in Rockville to keep the Sherwood High School student at a youth detention facility for at least two more weeks. "It's unbelievable to say the least. The last thing that I expected was that she would be able to do something like that."
The father's name is not being published because The Washington Post generally does not identify minors in criminal proceedings unless they are charged as adults.
The suspect, a resident of Olney, walked into the courtroom handcuffed, wearing flat, silver shoes, purple sweat pants and a top of the same color. She appeared to avoid making eye contact with her relatives and with the family of Kanisha Neal of Rockville, whom she is accused of stabbing once in the chest, close to the heart.
The suspect has admitted that she killed Kanisha, Assistant State's Attorney Debra S. Grimes told Circuit Court Judge Marielsa A. Bernard.
Grimes said Friday's brawl, in the parking lot of James Hubert Blake High School, stemmed from a dispute between two groups of girls two weeks earlier in which the suspect "spit at the sister of the victim at another football game."
The girl's attorney, Rudolph Acree, asked the judge to release her to the custody of her grandmother and suggested that she could be monitored via an electronic ankle bracelet.
"She does not have any behavioral issues at school or at home," Acree said. "I also think it's fair to say the offense was not initiated by [the suspect]. There's a strong indication that she was acting in self-defense."
Acree said she is an honor student; her father said she gets straight A's.
But the judge said the nature of the crime warranted detention at least until her next court hearing, scheduled for Oct. 12.
"It does sound like this might be an aberration. Unfortunate circumstances, shocking circumstances," Bernard said. But she said that the girl should remain behind bars considering "possible safety issues to the community and herself."
The victim's mother, Joyce Neal, 45, let out an audible sigh of relief.
Neal said that on her last day of life, her daughter didn't go to school because she insisted on accompanying her gravely ill father to a doctor's appointment.
Neal said the act speaks to her daughter's character. Kanisha, she said, "was just learning how to take responsibility."
Kanisha's relatives acknowledged that she had gotten into fights in the past. "Only in instances where she was protecting herself," said sister Stephanie Neal, 25.
Over the weekend, the victim's mother and at least three of Kanisha's four siblings tattooed her nickname, Missy, on their upper arms in her memory. Some of the relatives who attended the hearing wore black T-shirts featuring a photograph of a smiling Kanisha taken five years ago.
"She wanted to go to college and do law," said Deborah Neal, 19, another sister. "Nothing's going to bring her back."
The suspect's father said he feels awful for Kanisha's family.
"I am really sorry," said the man, who has three other children, 9, 11 and 16 years old. "I can understand the way they are feeling. Angry. Anguish. I would be feeling the same way."
The two families looked at each other from across the courtroom but did not exchange words.
The suspect's "mother will have a chance to see her daughter, to visit her," said Candy Neal, 36, of Rockville, Kanisha's aunt. "My sister won't. All she will have is a grave."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
Joyce Neal, left, and Kanisha's sister Stephanie wear memorial T-shirts. A sibling said Kanisha wanted to study law in college.