The Ugly Mug in Southeast Washington was typically busy on Saturday night, the bar filled with boisterous patrons who had come to drink and watch a televised fight.
But among the upbeat crowd, four friends gathered instead to mourn and remember Marine Lance Cpl. Phillip Bushong, who just hours earlier was fatally stabbed by another Marine steps away from the regular meeting spot on Eighth Street where the group had spent many nights together.
Police say Michael Joseph Poth, 20, who was based at Marine Barracks Washington, used a pocketknife to stab Bushong, 23, once in the chest after the two got into a fight on the street about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
Bushong was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. District police have charged Poth with second-degree murder.
The killing was a shocking and unusual act of violence in an area that has become an increasingly popular destination for young people drawn to the bustling bar scene and trendy restaurants. The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, lives nearby, and Marine guards — who subdued Poth after the killing — patrol the perimeter of the barracks.
On Saturday night and Sunday, Bushong’s friends struggled to comprehend an act of violence that they said appeared to stem from something trivial and senseless.
Authorities have said that one witness heard Poth use an anti-gay slur during the argument between the two men. Bushong’s friends said Bushong was not gay, nor was he homophobic.
“You could have called him gay, and he wouldn’t have cared,” said Nishith Pandya, 28. “He would have laughed.”
Bushong’s family could not be reached for comment.
Marilyn Poth, Michael Poth’s grandmother, declined to comment on the incident Sunday but expressed support for her grandson and sorrow over Bushong’s death.
“All we can say is that we love Michael, but we send our sincere condolences to the Bushong family,” Marilyn Poth said. “We truly do.”
Marine Pfc. Gabe Kennedy, 23, said he served with Bushong at Marine Barracks Washington and described him as “a great man.”
“He was my brother,” Kennedy said. “I’m an only child, but he was a brother to me.”
Bushong, Kennedy said, was most recently based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina but had returned to the Washington area to be near his longtime girlfriend and to try to enroll at George Mason University.
Kennedy said he had been planning to move into an apartment with Bushong, who was set just days from the end of his first tour of service and was dueto be honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on Thursday.
Officials at Marine Barracks Washington declined to release information about either Marine on Sunday.
Bushong, who served two years in the Color Guard in Washington before his assignment at Camp Lejeune, was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Force last year in response to the Libyan crisis, according to Cpl. David Thomson, 21, a friend of Bushong’s who served with him.The 101 / 2-month tour was spent aboard a Navy ship that also sailed near Iran and Oman.
Bushong’s friends remembered a warm and sincere young man who loved to read and play rock tunes on his electric guitar, a skill he learned from his father, who they said is a professional musician.
“Phillip shattered that stereotype” of what a Marine rifleman could be, Pandya said. “People need to know he was more than just a Marine.”
The scene at Bushong’s favorite bar was bustling again Sunday, as a cold drizzle fell outside and a playoff hockey game blared on the bar televisions.
Megan Moore, who said she had been a friend of Bushong’s for four years, stood outside smoking a cigarette. Moore said Bushong “could do no wrong” and was always smiling — even if she knew he’d had a bad day.
Staff writers Jeremy Borden and Allison Klein contributed to this report.