Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of the victim, 19-year-old Akinleye Osafa Warner. This version has been corrected.
A man found dead along the Northwest Branch Trail in Langley Park on Saturday may have been fatally stabbed by three teenagers seeking to “gain notoriety” within a gang, authorities said Thursday.
Police charged Nelson Rivera-Anaya, 15; Angel Contreras, 14; and a 13-year-old with first-degree murder in connection with the death of Akinleye Osafa Warner, 19, authorities said. Officials did not release the name of the 13-year-old, who by law cannot be charged as an adult.
Two of the suspects are students at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi and the third is a former student there. Police said all three might have connections to the MS-13 gang.
Warner’s father, Orin Warner, said his son was “a hard worker” who was studying criminal justice at Prince George’s County Community College. “He wanted to be somebody,” Orin Walker said. His son also planned to enlist in the military next year. “He wanted to make something of his life,” he said.
Investigators think that Warner went to the park Saturday with three people he knew, including one who was there for a possible drug sale, police said. During the alleged transaction, Warner and the three people with him were assaulted.
Police were called to a secluded section of the park, near 15th Avenue and Quebec Street, about 11:30 p.m. and found Warner suffering from multiple stab wounds, authorities said.
Detectives do not think that Warner was associated with a gang or directly involved in the alleged drug sale, said Lt. William Alexander, a county police spokesman. But he added that police are “still investigating the nature of the relationships between all involved.”
Police Capt. Jimmy Simms said that it is “very unusual” for juveniles to be charged in homicide cases but not unheard of.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” said Simms, who is with the county’s homicide division. “While there’s satisfaction in bringing closure for a victim’s family, it is also very tragic for the families of the juveniles involved in the crime.”
On Monday, shortly after learning that the suspects had a connection to Buck Lodge, police placed two officers at the school, according to Rex Barrett, the director of security services for the school system. The additional security will remain in place at the school, which is outfitted with cameras and electronic entry, until classes end next month.
Nelson withdrew from Buck Lodge on April 4, according to school officials, but the other two teens arrested were still enrolled. Nelson and Angel are in jail and the 13-year-old is being held at the Cheltenham Youth Facility, police said.
The school system has also added a security investigator to patrol the school, Barrett said.
“Buck Lodge has been off the radar,” Barrett said, noting that the school has had no violent incidents this year and previously had only one security assistant.
The county has worked for years to identify students who might engage in “negative behavior” so it can provide mentoring, counseling and other resources. Barrett said that overall incidents in county schools have dropped about 15 percent this year.
School officials plan to work more closely with the police department and parents during the next school year to identify at-risk students, including those who might join a gang, Barrett said.
“We’re trying to set up schools as a sanctuary,” Barrett said. “Our goal is to keep kids in school, help them to be a success, to graduate and go to college, and that requires keeping them safe.”
Schools Chief Kevin M. Maxwell served as principal of Buck Lodge and Northwestern High School, which are both in the Hyattsville area, for more than a decade. He said although he understands residents’ angst, he wanted to assure parents that “nobody should think that our schools are a place to feel fearful.”
“Gangs don’t organize around schools, they organize around communities,” Maxwell said. “It’s not like [gangs] are setting up shop in Buck Lodge, or any other school in the county for that matter.”
Warner had come to the United States in 2010 from Guyana with his family and worked as a cashier at a Giant in Northwest Washington while going to school, his father said. “We’re trying for the American dream like everyone else,” said Orin Warner, who added that his son had recently saved enough money to buy a new Acura. “He’s a very good child.”
Prince George’s police are asking anyone with information on this case to call 1-866-411-TIPS.
Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.