New U.S. Army recruit Matthew Pickett was on his way to see the war movie "Jarhead" Saturday night at his regular hang-out, the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo. He spent some time at Borders bookstore, as he usually did, and then left to meet his girlfriend when a group of young men jumped him about 11 p.m.

They took his money, and one of them hit him on the back of the head with a metal pipe. Pickett, 21, died of head trauma Monday at an area hospital.

It was the 150th homicide this year in Prince George's, but the first at the county's newest mall, which opened two years ago as a main-street style shopping center with stores, restaurants and a movie theater.

Robert Nealon, commander of the homicide unit, called the incident an "unprovoked attack" by about 10 young men.

Pickett's family described him as a quiet person who was working with special needs children as a teacher's aide at Rosaryville Elementary in Upper Marlboro while he waited to go to basic training at Fort Benning, in Georgia, next month.

"He just wanted to help someone; he loved kids," said his grandmother, Lorine Pickett. "That's just the way he was. He would do anything to improve life."

His father, Matthew Pickett Sr., said his son was one of those people who had never been in trouble.

"When he wasn't at work, he played PlayStation, chess and read poetry," his father said. "The only parties he went to were the ones where people read poetry and snap their fingers."

Pickett lived in Upper Marlboro with his parents and grandmother. As the son of an Army Ranger, he had grown up in many different places. Wherever he went, his grandmother said, he always found a place to play soccer and to wrestle, his two favorite sports.

Pickett hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father. When he was brought to the hospital Saturday night, one of the few things in his pocket was the business card of his Army recruiter, his father said.

Pickett wanted to go to Iraq and aimed to be in the Special Forces, according to his recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Joel Hogan.

"I'm so blown away by this, I'm in shock right now," Hogan said of Pickett's death. "He was a very soft-spoken, really smart, nice young man."

Hogan said Pickett had scored so high on the Army's scholastic exam that he was going to encourage Pickett to go into the medical field. Hogan's commander, Capt. Grant Fawcett, called Pickett "one of our great future soldiers."

"He was always in the station," Fawcett said. "We were all taken aback at what's happened."

Hogan said sometimes parents will discourage their children from going into the military because they think it's dangerous.

"What we always tell parents is, 'Your children can get killed right here in Prince George's County,' " Hogan said.

Police ask anyone with information about the killing to call the homicide unit at 301-772-4925. There is a reward of up to $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest and indictment in the case.

Matthew Pickett, who was to start basic training next month in Georgia, was described by his Army recruiter as "a very soft-spoken, really smart, nice young man."