To the investigators who first arrived, the scene looked like a standard, if brutal, hit-and-run.
The clues, described in court filings and hearings in Montgomery County this week, led to a chilling accusation about what had happened to Atwood, an eccentric, likable artist who in recent years had lived in a residential shelter and then a group home.
Investigators say that shortly before Atwood was run over on June 8, he was accosted by three attackers — ages 21, 17 and 15 — who robbed him of his backpack and forced him into the ravine. The older two followed him.
“They beat him with sticks, beat him with his own walking stick, knocked him unconscious,” Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Anderson said in court Thursday.
Then, as Atwood crawled from the ravine and onto Georgia Avenue, where he collapsed, the prosecutor said the three did nothing to help him. They “watched him get run over by a car,” Anderson said in court, recounting what investigators said one suspect described to them. “Mr. Atwood was dead. And they left him.”
Montgomery County Police say Atwood was probably hit by two cars. The hit-and-run investigation continues as police seek the driver of a light-colored Dodge Durango and the driver of a sedan, possibly a 2011 Dodge Avenger or Chrysler 200.
The 21-year-old suspect, Kenneth Sahr Kpakima of Silver Spring, was charged with robbery, first-degree assault and other counts. The 17-year-old, Mohammed Salous, also of Silver Spring, was charged as an adult with conspiracy to commit first-degree assault and first-degree assault.
Anderson, the prosecutor, indicated that more charges could be forthcoming.
Police called the 15-year-old a suspect but said no charges had been filed.
The details of the allegations jarred Atwood’s grieving friends. In interviews, four described him as a skilled audio-video professional who had set up systems at events and concerts. He wrote poetry, sculpted and painted.
“He was just an incredibly sweet guy,” said a former girlfriend who lived with him from 2009 to 2013. She asked not be named to protect her privacy.
More recent court records show police citing Atwood for a string of misdemeanor nuisance offenses, including drinking beer in public.
In 2015, he listed his home as a shelter in Rockville. A year later, it was a group home in Silver Spring, run by a nonprofit organization that helps people with mental-health and addictions issues. Three residents of the group home said they missed Atwood circulating among the rooms, stopping to chat. And they missed going into his neatly kept room, with its orderly lineup of computers, paintings, photographs and plants.
Police said nothing indicates that Atwood started the attack. Detectives said he was beaten with a metal crutch and at least one other object.
Kpakima appeared in court Thursday on a closed-circuit monitor from the county jail. An attorney representing him, David Fleishman of the Maryland public defender’s office, asked Judge Sherri Koch that his client be released, perhaps on house arrest. “He has a family he has to support,” Fleishman said, noting that Kpakima has a young child and a second on the way.
Kpakima spoke as well, telling Koch the detectives and prosecutors had it wrong.
“The way they’re trying to make it seem is not how it is,” he said, telling the judge he was trying make changes to his life.
“I have done some wrong things in my past,” Kpakima said, “Now I’ve been trying to change my life.”
Koch denied the request to release him. Seconds later, Kpakima could be heard cursing and calling the outcome “crazy.”
Salous had been a student at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring and worked at a cellphone repair shop, according to court records. He appeared in court Tuesday with his attorney, Leonard Addison, also of the public defender’s office, who questioned whether evidence pointed directly to his client. Judge James Sarsfield ordered Salous held without bond pending further court actions.
According to court files, investigators built their case from the blood trails, surveillance video footage, eyewitness interviews and interrogations of Salous and Kpakima.
Police watched surveillance recordings that showed Atwood leaving the group home where he lived at 7:37 p.m., June 7, carrying a black backpack and using his walking stick. “The victim never returned home,” detectives Mike Carin and Dimitry Ruvin wrote in court filings.
By early the next morning, Atwood had made his way to Georgia and Hewitt avenues, about a mile from where he lived, and where, according to the detectives, the three suspects took his backpack. Surveillance video and audio captured Atwood walking after the three, yelling for the return of his backpack.
“The three suspects began to assault the victim by striking him with a metal crutch and other unknown object(s),” the detectives allege.
Investigators wrote that they believe the confrontation continued and crossed over Georgia Avenue where the assailants forced Atwood into the ravine and watched as he crawled out after they say he was beaten.
“They watched him enter the roadway and collapse,” the detectives wrote, adding that they “never tried to stop him from entering the roadway and never helped him off the roadway. They observed a vehicle run over the victim. The group then fled the area, never attempting to call 911.”
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