The bruised and battered body of 8-year-old Yulanda Renee Johnson was discovered by D.C. police yesterday in a wooded area near her Fort Totten home, ending a three-day search for the girl who friends said was cautious of strangers.
One of the persons she was considered most fond of was her mother's sometime boyfriend, Rothell Anthony Perry, 31, of 831 Bellevue St. SE, who police say picked the child up from school last Wednesday, took her into the North Michigan Park woods about a mile from the Johnson apartment and beat her to death with a brick.
Perry, who is unemployed, was arraigned in D.C. Superior Court yesterday and charged with second degree murder. Judge William S. Thompson set bail for Perry, who has no criminal record, at $10,000, and ordered him to undergo psychiatric testing at the D.C. jail to determine if Perry is mentally competent to stand trial.
Some of his friends, who called him "Grumpy," said Perry had consumed a large amount of Scotch Tuesday night and began to cry as he complained that Yulanda's mother, Renee Johnson, had mistreated him.
"It was the night before that girl disappeared," recalled Martin Buchanan.
"Grumpy was talking about Renee [the mother], saying how she would just leave, and he wouldn't hear from her for three and four days. He said he was going to have to do something about it."
Yulanda's grandmother, Olivia Johnson, who lived with the family, reported the child missing after the girl failed to return home Wednesday from the Keene Elementary School, located at Fort Totten Drive and Riggs Road NE.
On Friday, police made a plea for public assistance in finding the child. Yulanda was four feet tall and weighed about 50 pounds. She was small for her age, but considered outgoing by neighbors who knew her and withdrawn and careful by those who only had watched her play.
"She was cautious about who she mixed with," said Theresa Pearson, who usually came home from her job at D.C. General Hospital about the same time that the children were going to school. "She didn't seem to be the kind of child who would go off with a stranger."
Mary MacMahon baby-sat for many of the residents in the apartment building where Yulanda lived and remembered Yulanda as the girl who often tagged along with other children whose parents brought them to MacMahon's home.
"She was just a sweet girl," MacMahon said."I remember just last Tuesday, I was doing some baby-sitting and she stuck her head in the door and saw my dog. She said, 'Cute dog.' and came on in."
Yulanda last had been seen wearing a full-length green coat with beige sleeves and a multicolored dress. One witness reported seeing the girl walking with an adult black male just after school at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Ben Hunter, the apartment manager, recalled that Yulanda regularly visited him after school, and sometimes did her homework in his apartment while waiting for her mother to return home.
When the girl first was reported missing last week, Hunter said he began "thinking about Atlanta" -- where 17 black children have been found killed -- and began to search through the trash bins and boiler rooms in the apartment building.
When radio newscasts reported the discovery of Yulanda early yesterday, Hunter mistook it for good news.
"Did they find her, huh? They found her?" he excitedly asked a reporter. When told that she was dead, Hunter fell back against the doorway and began clawing his face, cursing as he cried.
"Goddam. Lord. Not Yulanda," he wailed. "Yulanda? Dead? But she is . . . you know, what love and affection is all about. God, how could this happen?"
A group of men who congregate in Hunter's apartment to drink Vodka after work had grown fond of Yulanda and become accustomed to reprimanding each other for making noise when she was trying to study.
Yesterday morning, huddled over an empty fifth of Vodka watching cartoons on television, Hunter walked in and announced that Yulanda had been killed. The men were stunned.
"Come on now, cut the bull," said Ronnie MacMahon, his hands trembling as he set his shot glass aside. "That's our girl."
When they learned that Perry had been arrested in connection with the case, they looked at each other suspiciously and began recalling how troubled he had appeared recently.
"You could say he was the kind of guy who could go beserk," Hunter said. "It seemed like he was carrying a lot of weight around. He was trying to build himself up, talk like he knew a lot about all subjects -- everything from Swan Lake to auto parts. But when all was said and done, he had not said a damn thing."
Neighbors recalled that Yulanda would break into a sprint to greet him whenever she saw him arrive, jump into his arms and give him a kiss.
"I thought it was her real father," said one woman whose child walked to school with Yulanda. "It never crossed my mind that he would be involved."
The girl's grandmother, Olivia Johnson, said her daughter and Perry had gone together for about five years, and Perry was the father of Yulanda's three-year-old sister, Nicoele. "You can look at the pictures and see it," Olivia Johnson said.
Early yesterday, residents living near the Michigan Park woods at 14th and Emerson streets NE were awakened by the whir of helicopters and sirens converging on the area. Perry had directed them to a small clearing not visible from the street, where Yulanda's body lay, police said.
Dr. Brian Blackbourne, of the D.C. Medical Examiner's office said the child died from a "blunt impact injury of the head," and had been dead since sometime Wednesday, shortly after she disappeared.
The girl's grandmother said that Perry had telephoned Yulanda's mother once during the time the child was missing and asked the mother to marry him, but said nothing about the child.
"He just didn't want to accept the fact that she [the mother] didn't want to be bothered with him anymore," the grandmother said yesterday. "Now, at least she won't have to be bothered with him anymore."
Police arrived at the Johnson apartment before dawn yesterday to take the mother to the city morgue. Yulanda's room was as she had left it Wednesday -- schoolbooks and Jackson Five records neatly stacked on a shelf, school papers scattered on her bed, a doll in the corner.
"The kids who she usually walked home from school with didn't recall nothing suspicious happening, so we just figured maybe she had wandered off to a relative's house," Hunter said. "Stuff like this is just not supposed to happen around here."