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Montgomery County boy’s family, friends mourn his death at ice-covered pond

D’Angelo “DJ” McMullen, 10, fell through the ice while playing with his brother and another friend. (Family photo)

D’Angelo “DJ” McMullen was new to Rosemont Elementary School this school year, but it didn’t take long for the Montgomery County fourth-grader to make an impression. Curious about science. Energetic. Friendly.

“He was well known,” Principal Jimmy Sweeney said Tuesday. “As soon as the name was told to me, I knew exactly who it was.”

What Sweeney was describing was how he received news of a tragedy from the day before. D’Angelo died after falling through the ice at a pond where he, his brother and another pal were playing. The principal was one of countless people who mourned the 10-year-old.

“He always liked to play,” said Alex Bermudez, 11, a neighbor and friend, sitting in his living room after school. “He always liked to joke. He never did anything bad.”

About 4 p.m. Monday, D’Angelo, his older brother Jonathan — a sixth-grader — and a third boy walked onto the icy retention pond just outside the cluster of townhouses where they live near the Interstate 270 and 370 intersection.

The boys had slid across the ice before — in their shoes — and called it “skating,” one friend said earlier. “They were kids being kids,” Assistant Montgomery Fire Chief Scott Graham said.

But the ice wasn’t nearly thick enough to support the weight of people, and it rarely is in this region. “It’s just not cold enough here for long enough,” Graham said.

About 4:15 p.m. Monday, Montgomery 911 operators received a call that three boys were in the water, officials said. When rescuers arrived, a person who had called 911 pointed out an area of the pond where one of the children had gone under.

Two of the boys were making their way back to shore, Graham said, one running through shallow, slushy water, the other crawling across the ice. Rescue workers put on insulated suits and made their way to the area where the third boy had disappeared, but the water was murky. It took them about 25 minutes to find D’Angelo, officials said. The boy was taken to a hospital and died a short time later.

Jonathan and D’Angelo’s family released a statement through the Montgomery police.

“We would like to thank all of our family, friends and community for their support during this difficult time,” the family said. They said they were grieving the loss of “a very special child.”

Sweeney, the Rosemont principal, said D’Angelo and his family had been to a Friday night movie event at the school just days ago. Everyone watched “Despicable Me 2.”

“D.J., as we sometimes called him here, was a good, energetic student — well-liked by his peers,” Sweeney said. “He had a lot of friends.”

Jonathan McMullen is a student at Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg. “It is very difficult for all of us to face the death of a young person,” families were told in a letter from the Forest Oak principal.

In their neighborhood, D’Angelo’s friends and neighbors on Tuesday said they often saw him playing with his brother. “They loved each other a lot,” Alex said.

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

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Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.
Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.

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