Now, in new filings and court presentations, Montgomery County authorities are laying out why they think the actions of at least two of the three suspects — a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy both charged as adults — amount to murder.
“The suspects watched the victim lay motionless in the travel lanes of Georgia Avenue,” detectives wrote in a recent arrest warrant. “Approximately a minute later, the suspects watched a vehicle run over the victim.”
The suspects left without calling 911, authorities say, and went to an all-night McDonald’s.
Atwood was struck by at least one additional car. Neither vehicle stopped, and it is not clear whether the drivers knew what they had done.
In court Wednesday, the latest suspect to be arrested, Ashley Elizabeth Bonilla, 15, appeared via video feed from the county jail to have her bond conditions reviewed. Standing 5 feet tall, with much of her body obscured by a lectern, Bonilla said little, which is customary in such hearings.
“They targeted the victim in this case, ultimately, because he appeared to be vulnerable,” Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Anderson told the judge.
Anderson said that early in the encounter, after Atwood had his backpack pulled from him, he pleaded with the trio to give it back in exchange for some of his beer. Their reply, according to Anderson, was to beat him “with sticks, rocks, beer cans, anything they can to knock him unconscious.”
District Judge Eric Nee, while noting that Anderson was only making allegations, described them as unnerving.
“This was somebody essentially minding his own business,” Nee said of the victim. “His property is taken from him. He wants his property back, and then he’s beaten, just gratuitously. It’s just uncalled for.”
Elizabeth Pentecost, Bonilla’s attorney at the hearing, did not address the allegations. She asked that her client, if ordered held, be transferred to a juvenile facility. Nee declined, saying Bonilla posed a risk to other juveniles.
Atwood’s death jarred those who knew him best. In interviews, they described him as a skilled audio-video technician who had set up systems at events and concerts. He wrote poetry, sculpted and painted, even as he struggled with depression and alcohol abuse.
“Just an incredibly sweet guy,” said a former girlfriend who lived with him from 2009 to 2013.
Atwood lived in recent years at a residential shelter in Rockville and a group home just north of Aspen Hill, about a mile from where he died. At the home, he liked circulating among rooms, stopping in for chats. The door to his room — decked out with a metallic skull, a six-inch smiling yellow emoji and a block-letter-written slogan advising all to break free from what holds them back — led to an orderly lineup of computers, paintings, photographs and plants.
At a hearing set for Friday, attorneys are expected to take up murder and robbery counts just filed against the 17-year-old, Mohammed Salous. He and Bonilla were recent students at John F. Kennedy High School, according to court records.
Salous’s defense to the charges also is not known. An attorney representing him recently questioned whether evidence pointed directly to the teen.
In court filings, detectives have identified a third and final suspect in the case: Kenneth Sahr Kpakima, 21. He was charged earlier in District Court with assault and robbery in the case and remains held in jail on a no-bond status. Those counts are set to expire next week, a fairly routine deadline that signals when a case may be presented to a grand jury and possibly transferred to Circuit Court.
“The charges are what they are now. They’re probably going to change,” Anderson said at an earlier hearing for Kpakima.
The 21-year-old also spoke at the hearing, telling Judge Sherri Koch that the detectives and prosecutors had it wrong. “The way they’re trying to make it seem is not how it is,” he said.
Maryland laws span different kinds of homicides — from manslaughter to first-degree murder. Arrest warrants and court records indicate that Anderson is pursuing a theory of felony murder, which addresses deaths caused during or immediately after the commission of certain violent felonies, such as robbery.
And that’s what the three did, detectives allege, having put together their case from the blood trails, surveillance video footage, witness interviews and interrogations with Kpakima, Salous and Bonilla.
The night of June 7, Atwood left his group home at 7:37 p.m., carrying a black backpack and using his walking stick. Court records do not say what he did for the next seven hours. But by 2:45 a.m., police believe, he was in the area of Hewitt Avenue when he came across the three, and they took the backpack.
The confrontation ultimately continued to the other side of Georgia Avenue, where a sidewalk west of the roadway falls off into a shallow, wooded ravine.
“The victim fell backward into the woods,” detectives wrote.
Kpakima and Salous followed him into the ravine, the detectives added, beating him to the point he appeared to lose consciousness for several seconds. Police would later find Atwood’s walking stick in the ravine “with a significant amount of blood on it.”
Atwood crawled from the woods. Kpakima then reached down, pulled Atwood’s wallet from his pocket and took out cash, according to police. The victim kept crawling, police said, onto Georgia Avenue. Minutes later, according to the investigators, Atwood was dead.
Court records indicate thatBonilla and Salous had little to no previous contact with the criminal justice system.
On May 14, though, three weeks before Atwood’s death, Kpakima appeared in a Montgomery County courtroom to plead guilty to a theft charge, stemming from his and an accomplice’s attempt to steal three iPhones from a Best Buy in Gaithersburg — a plan foiled after they cut the phones’ security cords, setting off alarms, and Kpakima was tackled by a store employee.
“I ain’t gong to lie to you,” Kpakima told District Judge Zuberi Bakari Williams. “I know that I made the wrong decision.”
Kpakima said he wanted to change for the sake of his young child and a second on the way. “I’m trying to better myself for my kids,” he told the judge.
Kpakima already had spent 70 days in jail on the case. A prosecutor told Williams that he was satisfied that Kpakima had served enough time. Williams agreed.
“You can make your life whatever you want it to make,” Williams told Kpakima. “If you want to spend your days in jail, and be an absent father, you can do that, that’s one way to live your life. Or if you want to participate in the upbringing of your children, and try to make them better, which is what I would advise you to do, you can do it this way.”