ALEXANDRA, SOUTH AFRICA — Howard County police charged a 16-year-old Columbia youth yesterday with killing his home teacher Wednesday following an argument over his schoolwork.
Alton Romero Young of the 7500 block of Murray Hill Road in Columbia was charged with first-degree murder in the strangulation of Dayton resident Shirley Rue Mullinix, 57, a home-hospital teacher in the Howard County school system. The accused youth was being taught at home because he had been suspended from Hammond High School.
Mrs. Mullinix had been scheduled to visit with the youth on the afternoon of her death, police said. He became a suspect after policefound his school papers and the personal effects of Mrs. Mullinix in a trash bin on Clocktown Lane in Columbia.
Police alleged that Mrs. Mullinix was murdered in the Young home and that her body was taken to an area behind the High's convenience store in the 7600 block of Murray Hill Road in Columbia's Huntington neighborhood.in the Village of Kings Contrivance.
Mrs. Mullinix had been employed by the school system for three years as a teacher for students unable to attend regular classes because of health or disciplinary problems.
TH School officials, citing rules of confidentiality, would not say how
long Mrs. Mullinix had been instructing Alton at his home, or when the youth had been expelled from the school.
The victim's fully clothed body was discovered behind the High's store about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday by two middle-school students riding bicycles.
Nancy Irwin, area supervisor for High's, said that the store was open at that time and that her employees hadn't seen anything unusual.
Mrs. Mullinix was last seen Wednesday morning going to work, said Sgt. Gary Gardner, spokesman for the Howard County police. When her body was discovered, her car was parked outside her home.
The state medical examiner's office concluded that Mrs. Mullinix had been strangled, and ruled her death a homicide.
Mrs. Mullinix, a wife and the mother of four children, was wearing a jacket, jeans and a sweater when her body was discovered. Her purse and identification were missing. Police identified Mrs. Mullinix initially from the county Recreation and Parks Department patch on her jacket.
Although the patch contained only her first name, it was enough to recall for parks officials her participation in the program, police said.
School-system policy requires that another adult must be present when home-study teachers work with individual students, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said yesterday. But police said last night that no other adult was believed to have been present during Wednesday's study session.
Mr. Hickey said he planned to review the police report to determine whether changes should be made in school policy.
"We don't know what the circumstances were of her death," he said.
Some schoolmates of the Young youth -- who they said was a sophomore at Hammond High -- described him as combative, but several described him as friendly.
"He was a little crazy and sometimes he would lose control of himself," said Kristopher Williams Jefferson, 16, a junior at Hammond.
However, Tamieko Ross, a sophomore at Hammond who knew the defendant, described him as a person who "was nice to me, but got in trouble a lot."
Regina Lewis, another Hammond sophomore, said Alton and his family formerly lived next door to her at the Chase Brae apartments. "He was really nice," she said. "In school, he would run his mouth and he would get people mad at him, but he was really nice."
A neighbor of Mrs. Mullinix, Mary Ann Hurley, said the family had lived in the quiet neighborhood for at least eight years.
"We are very much shocked by what happened to her," Mrs. Hurley said.
Mrs. Mullinix and her husband, Wayne, were churchgoing people and pleasant, she said.
In June 1990, Mr. and Mrs. Mullinix earned patches from the parks department for completing a hiking program, which included a trek along the Appalachian Trail, said Henry Ellis, a volunteer for the parks department.
On Saturdays the couple would join a group of 25 to 35 outdoor enthusiasts who would hike six to nine miles in the parks department program.
Mr. Ellis said that Mrs. Mullinix often helped people in need and he was disturbed by her death.
"One can get into trouble just by being a nice person," Mr. Ellis said.