From the time he was in grade school, Maurice Bellamy struggled to stay focused and control his temper. But within the structure of specialized private schools in Maryland, the young man seemed to show promise.
He won a citizenship award for exhibiting “a model of behavior and social respect,” and he spoke at his eighth-grade graduation. He wanted to run a company and design computer games. Later, at a high school for children with learning disabilities, Bellamy passed all his classes, even earning an A in algebra.
All that changed in December 2013, when his family moved to Southeast Washington. For five weeks, Bellamy, then 15, drifted while his mother tried to get the school system to enroll him at Ballou High School, which was within walking distance of the family’s new home. When Bellamy finally started classes, his absences, bursts of anger and failing grades quickly piled up. He threatened staff members, and was arrested and put on probation.
The city eventually moved the teen to a private school, but he missed more days than he attended.
Those months appear to have marked a steep decline for a young man who, according to authorities, would become a killer at age 17. Police said Bellamy gunned down a 15-year-old boy at the Deanwood Metro station in March because of a glance he thought was disrespectful. Months earlier, police said, the youth fatally shot a Secret Service officer during a robbery. Both victims were strangers to Bellamy, who is now awaiting trial.
A city hearing examiner concluded that the D.C. school system had failed Bellamy by allowing him to go for weeks without any schooling, then enrolling him at a large public school that could not provide the help and the routine he needed. Bellamy’s private-school placement came after it was ordered by the examiner.
Although much remains unknown about Bellamy, a review of hundreds of pages of education records obtained by The Washington Post provide a window into one key aspect of his life. They show a youth who, despite a long history of troubled behavior, made progress in highly structured settings. But at Ballou, one of the District’s most chaotic schools, Bellamy was essentially lost. He wandered the halls and fell asleep in class, and his impulsiveness took over.
“We tried to raise him to know right from wrong,” said Bellamy’s grandmother Elizabeth Bellamy, 77, who said she last saw her grandson about a year ago. “I heard that they said he was mad all of the time before he got locked up. I don’t know what went wrong with him. All that I have been doing is praying for him.”
At Bellamy’s first court hearing, a grandfather of the teenage victim’s was struck by the alleged killer’s youthful look. “He’s just a kid himself,” the man said.
Bellamy grew up in the Kentland area of Landover in Prince George’s County, a few streets from the community recreation center. The neighborhood, not far from the District line, is one of the county’s most troubled, a magnet for gangs and crime.
Bellamy’s mother, Keisha Marie Shelton, 39, with whom Bellamy lived for much of his youth, works as a bus driver for Metro. Bellamy has a twin sister who attends Ballou and an older brother taking a class at a community college in Northern Virginia. Bellamy’s mother, brother and several friends did not respond to interview requests. His attorney with the District’s Public Defender Service declined to comment.
Bellamy had been flagged as far back as grade school for disruptive behavior, especially when he was in large groups or after returning from school breaks. He received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
One school assessment written when he was 13 noted that Bellamy had a “supportive family who are working to make sure that he is safe and that he is educated.” But the assessment also said that Bellamy lived with his uncle, at that time, because his mother did not trust the child to stay alone at home while she was at work.
For Bellamy and his friends, the Kentland Community Center was their hangout. They played there as children, and it was a backdrop for pictures they posted on Facebook. The name “Kentland” became incorporated into their gangster-style monikers: Bellamy called himself “Kentland MO” and “SHOOTA MO”; his friends, LilMario Frm Kentland, Ray Frm DaZoo and Kentland Zoo Moore.
The center’s regional director, Antoinette Guerry, recalled Bellamy as polite and respectful and said he helped set up chairs for events and retreated to the game room to play pool and foosball. As a young teen, he participated in the center’s Extreme Teen and Safe Summer Program, activities that kept the center’s doors open until midnight. “He never talked bad about anyone,” Guerry said.
From an early age, Bellamy was observed to have learning challenges, and Prince George’s schools created for him what is called an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. Such plans set out blueprints for educating students who have special needs.
Maryland educators concluded that the public schools could not provide him the help he needed and placed him at taxpayer expense in a private K-8 special-education school in Chillum, Md., operated by the Children’s Guild.
A 2012 report from the Children’s Guild highlighted a theme that carried through Bellamy’s future assessments: He performed well when engaged in organized activities that he liked, such as basketball, football and hands-on science projects. He earned the citizenship award and expressed interest in computer gaming.
“It would be cool to own a company and design the game myself,” he told a psychologist.
A group of educators wrote that Bellamy “likes to socialize and to have fun with his peers, and he enjoys the sense of family that he has.”
But, the educators also concluded, “when faced with a choice that can affect himself and others, Maurice has demonstrated poor impulse control as he will act before he thinks about what he is doing.”
He was disciplined for taking alcohol to school and for leaving his classes to attend a different group’s field trip. The psychologist wrote that Bellamy had mood swings, was physically and verbally aggressive toward other students and “appears to be sad at times . . . angry because he does not have control over his life.”
Andrew Ross, president and chief executive of the Children’s Guild, said in a statement that Bellamy had been one of the eighth-grade commencement speakers, had excelled in sports and that his grades had steadily improved. “This is truly a tragic outcome for a boy who showed promise in overcoming his circumstances,” Ross said.
In 2013, Bellamy started his high school career at High Road Academy, Maryland, a private school with low student-to-teacher ratios. His first teachers wrote that Bellamy “has great potential” and “needs to continue to work on his behavior when he becomes upset.”
By the end of his second term, Bellamy was passing all classes. He completed the term with an A in algebra, a B in health and C’s in English and history, but his pace of absences was increasing. High Road officials declined to comment for this article.
About the same time, Bellamy’s mother had saved enough to buy a home in the District, a two-story house perched above Congress Street. The family moved there in December 2013, and Prince George’s County in Maryland stopped paying for Bellamy’s schooling at High Road Academy.
That month, Shelton tried to enroll Bellamy at Ballou, his new neighborhood school, a requirement to get him placed back in a private school. But Ballou repeatedly put her off, school documents show. The D.C. hearing officer who examined Bellamy’s case said the delay was “due to unresponsiveness of and lack of communication” by school staff.
Federal law requires that a student with an IEP that was established in one state must get a comparable education in another state. That meant Bellamy either should have been placed back in private school or be given a fresh assessment by the District. The educational records obtained by The Post show that the District did neither.
Ballou instead put Bellamy in its special-education program, which is in the same building that houses the mainstream students, and the teen often roamed the halls. Two of his seven classes — music and physical education — were taken with the general student body. He was not added to a social worker’s caseload until May 16, 2014 — nearly three months after he started at Ballou, the hearing examiner noted.
Bellamy was one of more than 10,000 students transferred into or out of D.C. public schools during the 2013-2014 school year, a massive ebb and flow that experts say is linked to lower achievement.
When Bellamy entered Ballou, it was one of the District’s lowest-performing schools, struggling with high truancy and suspension rates. The next year, D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced that she would turn the school around by replacing many of its staff members; it was the second time in five years that the school system had tried such a “reconstitution” at Ballou.
By spring 2014, Bellamy was failing five classes at Ballou and had D’s in the remaining two he was taking. Teachers reported frequent absences.
On May 1, Bellamy had a run-in with a Ballou staffer when he refused to leave a hallway. According to records, he shouted, “I’m not going, no f------ way.” The staffer again asked Bellamy to leave, at which point Bellamy allegedly swung his fist at the staffer. Two staffers restrained him, and then he reportedly said he would return to school and “smoke all you motherf-----s.”
Bellamy pleaded guilty to misdemeanor threats, was put on three months juvenile probation and ordered to undergo anger management.
Bellamy moved to the District at a time when then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) had promised to save tens of millions of dollars by halving the number of students placed in private schools at taxpayer expense.
But that June, the hearing officer ruled that Bellamy had been wrongly placed at Ballou, noting that his “behavior issues have worsened” at the school and that “he displays oppositional and defiant behaviors characterized by refusing to complete work, walking out of class, leaving school without permission, and sleeping in the classroom.”
The officer ordered the District to pay for private school, and Bellamy was enrolled at the High Road Upper School of Washington.
By then, Bellamy appeared to have been lost to the streets. Over the next year, he showed up sporadically at school and failed every class. He twice ran away from a group home in which he was placed after the altercation at Ballou, was arrested for violating his probation and was jailed for two weeks.
In November 2014, Bellamy’s mother told a school official that her son had run away. From Aug. 3, 2015, through Jan. 7, 2016, he missed 51 days of school. Officials at High Road did not report him to the court as truant until February, records show. The school declined to say why.
About two weeks before Christmas 2015, Bellamy walked up to a car parked in Southwest Washington, according to court documents. When the driver rolled down the window, Bellamy asked him the time, then pulled out a gun.
Bellamy and two others, police said, mistook the driver for a drug dealer and decided to rob him. The man was Arthur Baldwin Jr., 30, an officer with the U.S. Secret Service, off the clock and waiting for a friend.
Bellamy fired twice, later saying he did it because Baldwin tried to fight back, the documents state. An accomplice also allegedly fired. Police said the assailants escaped only with an iPad and a wallet that they threw down a storm drain because it contained no money.
In March, police say, Bellamy shot 15-year-old Davonte Washington as Davonte waited with his mother and sisters for a train at Deanwood, on his way to get an Easter haircut. Authorities said Bellamy fired the gun into the youth’s chest from one hand while holding a bag of carryout food in the other.
Bellamy was arrested the next day and faces two counts of murder. He is being prosecuted as an adult.
“Someone failed him,” Baldwin’s wife, Mildrena, said of Bellamy. “The major question is: How did someone lose him, and who lost him, and why?”
Jennifer Jenkins, Keith L. Alexander, Derek Hawkins and Lori Aratani contributed to this report.