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The Dreams That Died with a Teenager's Six Victims

February 24, 2002
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The Dreams That Died with a Teenager's Six Victims

by Richard Lezin Jones with Janny Scott, The New York Times

INSLOW TOWNSHIP, N.J., Feb. 24 — One was a newlywed, the father of a year-old son. He was a 24-year- old food-service worker with plans to begin classes in computer science the following day. Another had received a diagnosis of schizophrenia and manic depression years earlier but had gone on to become a mental- health worker and an advocate for the mentally ill.

Today, spontaneous memorials lined the wooden fence outside the pink concrete bungalow on Stevens Avenue, a bleak stretch of the West Atco section this Camden County township, where the authorities say that a 16-year-old had embarked upon a rampage that left six people dead earlier this month and a seventh injured. The young man, whom authorities have not identified, was arrested Friday.

Neighbors of one victim, Una Bethune, 30, suggested yesterday that the boy was a relative of Ms. Bethune. The Camden County prosecutor, Lee A. Solomon, declined to comment on those reports. New Jersey law prohibits law-enforcement officials from identifying any juvenile charged with a crime unless the courts have approved his being charged as an adult.

A detention hearing is scheduled Monday in Family Court in Camden, which is just over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia. Mr. Solomon said he intended to charge the teenager as an adult immediately after the hearing. "We have six first-degree murders and one first-degree attempted murder," he said tonight. "I think that's just about as serious as it gets."

Investigators have said they think the teenager went to the bungalow on Stevens Avenue on the evening of Feb. 4, possibly to settle a dispute with a resident, Absalom Giddings, 30. Inside the house, police officers later found the bodies of Mr. Giddings; Ms. Bethune; Donald Mays, 40; and his girlfriend, Corlis Williams, 43. They had all been shot.

The following evening, the authorities said, the teenager went to the Greentree apartment complex in nearby Lindenwold and shot Torrance Lomax, 18, after Mr. Lomax refused to sell him marijuana. Mr. Lomax was injured but survived. Fleeing between buildings, the young man then shot Kasim Dale, 24, and Chris Ferguson III, 37, apparently because he thought they had seen him shoot Mr. Lomax, the authorities said.

"Kasim was coming up the path as he was going down the path," said Bernadette Greene, Mr. Dale's mother, who lives a few hundred yards from where her son was killed. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, my baby."

Ms. Greene said that Mr. Dale had married his longtime girlfriend in June, a few months after she had given birth to twins, one of whom had died at a few weeks old. Kasim Jr. is now about a year old, Ms. Greene said. Mr. Dale worked at Virtua West Jersey Hospital in Voorhees but was scheduled to begin computer science classes on Feb. 6, she said.

"We were real tight," Ms. Greene said. "He would call me every night to make sure I got home from work safe."

She added, sobbing, "I keep waiting to hear his voice."

Donald Mays Sr. said his son's death was the end of a remarkable journey. He said that as a young man, his son had been found to have severe mental illness but had learned to manage it. He had gone on to become a mental-health worker and a member of the Camden County Mental Health Board and had worked to shut down inadequate residences for the mentally ill, Mr. Mays said.

"He came up through the system, then reached back and helped others," Mr. Mays said. "He lived in those boarding homes, and he saw those conditions."

Today, yellow police tape crisscrossed the fence in front of the bungalow where the bodies of Mr. Mays and the others were found. On the fence were a metal crucifix, pink plastic roses, stuffed teddy bears and a deflated heart-shaped Mylar balloon.

Seven miles away, in Lindenwold, stunned residents said the shootings had shattered any hopes they might have had that their community was a safe haven from city violence.

"People move down here to get away from the madness," said Abdul Bey, who lives in the complex where Mr. Lomax was shot, "but they're walking right into it."

He blamed what the authorities have described as a growing drug trade for the violence in the area. "It's city life coming here, man," he said.

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