A young man taking part in a Virginia program designed for troubled youths is accused of killing two of the program’s counselors in the past five months.
Nineteen-year-old Ronald Francis Dorsey Jr. was charged Friday with murder in the deaths of Erica Janelle Hickson, 37, and Lizeth Yadira Lopez, 36, both found dead a few blocks from the Woodbridge apartment complex where Dorsey lived and they worked.
Hickson disappeared in the middle of her shift Thursday evening. Her body was found Friday morning in a wooded area near Golf Side Circle.
Lopez was reported missing by her family on April 17 when she failed to come home from work. Her body was found near a drainage ditch nearly two weeks later in a case that remained open until Hickson’s body was found in the same area and police arrested Dorsey.
“She was a good person, but she was trusting, too,” Lionel Smith, a friend of Hickson’s, said Saturday. “I think that might have been her problem: She thought she could help the world.”
It was not clear Saturday how police linked Dorsey to the recent case and whether they had suspected him in the earlier killing. Police said only that Dorsey “was known to both victims.” Police also did not say how the women died.
Dorsey was a resident in Youth Quest Independent Living, a private program operated under Richmond-based Intercept Youth Services, police said.
Intercept is licensed by the Virginia Department of Social Services to place young people in foster homes, adoptive homes, child-caring institutions and independent living arrangements, according to its website and a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Social Services.
The Woodbridge location is part of the independent living program that serves youths ages 17 to 21 coming out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems or otherwise struggling to be on their own, according to the program’s website.
State licensing officials are “fully aware and will closely monitor the situation throughout the investigation” into the Woodbridge deaths, the spokeswoman said.
Officials at Youth Quest and Intercept did not respond to requests for comment.
“It makes you feel uncomfortable,” said Tammy Robinson, a resident for two years of the apartment townhouse community where the women’s bodies were found. Like several other residents of the complex, she said Saturday that she was unaware that the young man from the program lived in the complex. She also said managers of the complex had not notified the larger community about the killings.
“I always find it best when you’re upfront with people,” she said. “Tell them what’s going on.”
In addition to her counselor job, Hickson worked during the day at Annandale High School, helping special-education students find careers.
“She showed a tremendous amount of compassion, a tremendous amount of empathy, she was very humble,” Annandale High School Principal Tim Thomas said Saturday. “Someone who made connections with kids that others couldn’t. Just a wonderful human being.”
Thomas said Hickson showed her commitment to young people by juggling both positions.
Smith said there was another reason Hickson had taken on so much work: She was caring for her own son and her late sister’s three children.
In an interview posted online by a friend two years ago, Hickson talked about growing up in a mixed-race, constantly moving military family.
“I asked my grandmother at one point, ‘What are we?’ ” she recalled. “And she looked at me and said: ‘You are human. You belong to the human race.’ ”
Hickson also talked about her commitment to working with special-needs students as a teacher and counselor. “Every day is a challenge, but this is a labor of love,” she said. “I love what I do.”
Neville Adams, a teacher in Prince George’s County, met Hickson in graduate school at George Washington University. He said her father, a Marine, instilled “an attitude of looking out for the little guy. She always went the extra mile for kids and for anyone really . . . She didn’t see anything bad in kids. She always looked for the best.”
While a counselor, Lopez was also a student.
She was about to graduate from the University of Maryland with a degree in criminal justice, her family told WUSA-TV after her disappearance.
The families of both victims declined to comment Saturday. Relatives of Dorsey could not be located for comment.
The homicide investigation stunned some residents of the quiet residential complex where the youth program is housed in the 12300 block of Pond Run Drive.
“It’s never felt at any point unsafe,” said Brendan Shehan, a resident approaching his third lease.
Shehan was unaware of the youth program, but he said the circumstances of Hickson’s death grieved him.
“This was a person here for humanitarian reasons,” he said. “To lose their life trying to help someone in need, that is sad.”
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.