Shirley Rue Mullinix always drew the tough assignments with difficult children, her supervisor at the Howard County Board of Education said yesterday.
"She always came to mind," said Peggy Schultz, coordinator of the school system's home-hospital program. "I hired her quite regularly for difficult children."
Difficult did not mean dangerous, she said. Difficult meant challenging. No danger was anticipated.
So when Ms. Schultz learned yesterday that Mrs. Mullinix had been murdered and her body found behind a convenience store in the Huntington neighborhood of the village of Kings Contrivance in Columbia, she assumed Mrs. Mullinix was not on a home-teaching assignment at the time. So sure in fact, that when she learned police were looking at home-bound students as possible suspects, she "never thought it would lead anywhere."
Ms. Schultz said she was "shocked and overwhelmed" when she heard that 16-year-old Alton Romero Young had been been charged with strangling Mrs. Mullinix, 57, of Dayton, in his home.
The youth is being held in the Howard County Detention Center, charged as an adult with first-degree murder, robbery, assault and assault and battery. A bond hearing is scheduled for Monday.
Alton's mother, Winopa Addison, told police Thursday that her son said Mrs. Mullinix had called and made a 2 p.m. appointment but never arrived.
Police allege that Mrs. Mullinix did arrive, and that during an argument about his grades, Alton strangled her in the family's Chase Brae Apartment in the 7500 block of Murray Hill Road.
Police say Alton then carried the body outside and put it in the teacher's car, drove to a location near the convenience store and dumped her body down a hill behind it. Police discovered her body Wednesday afternoon.
A bloodhound led police to a dirt path leading from behind the High's store to the Huntington Downs apartment complex on Clock Tower Lane, police records showed. The victim's wallet and other personal belongings were found in a trash bin along with the student's paperwork, police said. The victim's car was found two doors away from the suspect's apartment building, police said.
Linda Adams, 47, of Glenelg, has been a home teacher in Howard and Prince George's counties for 13 years. Every tutor has been affected by the murder, she said. "We're just in a state of shock. You just realize how vulnerable you are when you go out to homes. Technically, you're not supposed to go in when there's no adults at home."
"You just don't know what type of student you're going to get or what emotional strain they're going to be in," Ms. Adams said.
It was up to Mrs. Mullinix to make sure someone else -- an adult -- was going to be at home with Alton when she came to tutor him. School officials don't know why she was alone, said Patti Caplan, school spokeswoman.
Ms. Caplan said school policy requires a teacher and another person be present during tutoring sessions for safety reasons -- both for the teacher and the student. It is unclear why only Mrs. Mullinix was at her student's home, Ms. Caplan said.
"There is an aura of disbelief," Ms. Caplan said. "Everyone is a little frightened to think this could happen to anyone, much less an employee."