Slaying Of Classmate Triggers Sadness, Confusion

Laurel Third-graders Question Why Anyone Would Kill A Child

January 16, 1991|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

I'm sad . . . I'm scared . . . I'll miss you.

The words are written in crayon on a goodbye card written by a third-grade classmate of Christopher Roth, who was stabbed to death Sunday in a killing that has triggered a wave of confusion in his Laurel elementary school.

"Sometimes people lose their minds when they're on drugs. Maybe that's why it happened," said one fifth-grader at Laurel Woods Elementary School. Another, a boy who said he knew Christopher, asked why anyone would want to murder a child.

"It's not fair. He was only 8 years old," the boy said.

For school psychologists who spoke to children yesterday at Laurel Woods, the job of crisis counseling entailsnot only explaining the facts surrounding a murder case, but also ofexplaining the concept of death itself.

"You have to understand that you can't see Christopher anymore. He's gone. You will never see him again. Never," said Eileen Woodbury, one of the staff psychologists on the county school system's Crisis Management Team.

Yet as the day wore on, many students still referred to Christopher in the present tense. And for those who did understand that their classmate wasgone forever, two questions were asked over and over: "Why was he killed? What did he do?"

Christopher Roth had recently moved to Laurel from Prince George's County and began classes at Laurel Woods on Nov. 5. His assistant principal recalls him as a peppy, "sandy-haired blond kid" who seemed to make friends quickly.

The older fifth-graders, who ironically graduated Monday from their DARE drug educationprogram, spoke of the dangers of drugs. One boy was indignant and told his teacher that all drugs "should be outlawed."

Christopher Roth and his mother, Caria A. Roth, 30, both were killed early Sunday at their home in the Whiskey Bottom Apartments. Roth was stabbed repeatedly and his mother was shot in the head, crimes that police believewere drug-related.

Caria Roth's live-in boyfriend, Melvin Leslie McMains, 36, turned himself in to police within minutes of the killings and has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He isundergoing psychiatric observation at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center.

Police say they recovered a small amount of the hallucinogen PCP in the couple's apartment. McMains apparently had been smoking the drug shortly before the killings occurred, said police spokesman Gary L. Gardner.

Perhaps the most confusing element to the crime is that apparently no argument took place between McMains and the Roths.

"If he wasn't mad, why did he stab him? Can drugs make you do that?" one fifth-grade girl asked.

Four counselors from the county schools' Crisis Management Team have been meeting with students both individually and in classrooms to talk about Christopher's death. Also, an open forum will be conducted next Wednesday evening at the school. Parents are invited to attend with their children.

"Death is a hard concept for us as adults to understand, let alone children,"Woodbury said. "It's hard for them to grasp what's happened to Christopher because it's not fair. Some have asked, 'If I did something bad, would someone take a knife to me?' "

Arlene Gamble, another staff psychologist, said Christopher's classmates have struggled to understand why their friend has become a victim.

"They need reassurance. We tell them that this has never happened to anyone at Laurel Woods before, and that the man who (police say) did this is in jail," Gamble said. "But for the kids who knew Christopher, the feelings of sadness are really intense and hard to break through."

One student who knew Christopher has been so saddened by the boy's death that he told his parents he will be unable to speak certain lines in an upcoming school play, in which he plays a killer, said Laurel Woods Assistant Principal Robert Bruce.

"One of his parents asked me if the lines could be changed. He just doesn't want to say them now that this has happened," Bruce said.

Woodbury and the other counselors say that the school, which has an enrollment of about 785, would be much more on edge if the suspect was still at large.

"This would be a verydifferent scenario if we still had a murder suspect on the loose," Woodbury said. "At least one comforting thing we can tell them is thatthey're safe, and that this is something that adults do not normallydo."

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