Grieving relatives bury slain 16-year-old Obdul Richards' body was found March 1 in abandoned school

March 09, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Robert Hilson Jr. contributed to this article.

Katrena Richards stood at the front of the funeral home chapel yesterday, read the poem she had composed for her oldest brother and tried to keep her composure. The 15-year-old made it through the first two lines, then, as she looked over the front row with her parents and four surviving siblings, she had to cry.

"He never hurt anyone. He didn't deserve to die," Katrena said of Obdul Richards, 16, who police believe was killed in January by Shawn E. Brown, 27, a Baltimore native. "He was our oldest brother, and we never got to say goodbye."

It was the second straight Friday that a grieving family buried a boy Mr. Brown is accused of slaying. Mr. Brown, who served nine years in a New York prison for attacking a 7-year-old boy, has been charged in the deaths of Obdul and Marvin Douglas "Bear" Wise Jr., 8. Mr. Brown maintains he is innocent.

Yesterday Obdul, a quiet 10th-grader with a sharp wit and passion for basketball, was laid to rest in a state veterans cemetery in Owings Mills. Last week, on her 28th birthday, Mary Williams buried Marvin, her chunky second son, who had talked of becoming a policeman.

Families and friends of the two victims do not know one another, but they share a similar anger for authorities and Mr. Brown's family for not alerting their neighborhoods to the presence of a convicted child molester. Mr. Brown returned to his hometown of Baltimore last June after serving his sentence.

"They knew how he was and said nothing," said Walter Browder, a friend who shares a Flag House Courts public housing complex with Ms. Williams and her children. "I'm upset because they knew, but no one else knew anything."

For the past four years, Marvin, nicknamed Bear as a baby because of his considerable girth, lived with his mother and two brothers in a two-bedroom East Baltimore apartment furnished with two worn sofas, a coffeetable and a color television with poor reception.

The Flag House Courts apartments are surrounded by litter and glass-strewn yards, where children play among drug dealers. Marvin often played in this neighborhood and recently had joined a basketball team, but he also enjoyed staying in the kitchen with his mother.

Ms. Williams said Mr. Brown -- who says he sometimes lived with his sister at Flag House Courts -- quickly became a playmate for her son and other children in the complex. He regularly took Marvin to the movies, and on the day of Marvin's death led him and other children on a trip to the Inner Harbor. That evening, Ms. Williams let Marvin go to a pajama party at the apartment of Mr. Brown's sister.

Police allege that at some point after that, Mr. Brown strangled Marvin and left his body in a vacant apartment in the building.

Mr. Brown "spent more time with the kids than he did with adults, but we didn't think anything about it," Ms. Williams said. "Right now, I'm sad, disappointed and angry."

Allen Richards, Obdul's father, says he feels those emotions, too, and no small measure of guilt.

A Baltimore native, he joined the Army after high school, and when given a choice of postings between Alaska and Germany, headed to Anchorage because "Alaska didn't have snakes."

There, he married Bridgett, the daughter of an oil-pipeline

worker, and their first son, Obdul, was born May 29, 1979. They had five more children, landed good jobs -- he as a fish processor, she as a day care worker -- and eventually found a comfortable house with a big yard in the Anchorage neighborhood of Mountain View. In school, Obdul made the honor roll. Afternoons, he looked for a warm place to play basketball with friends named Harry, Brodrick and Angel.

But in 1994, Mr. Richards' father died. And despite objections from the children, he moved the family to Baltimore and took a job as a security guard. The family rents a house in a troubled neighborhood just east of Green Mount Cemetery. Drug dealers frequent a corner a half-block from the two-story rowhouse. The house next door is vacant, except for the strangers who sometimes walk in and out at night.

"It was a very hard move," Mr. Richards said this week. "That's where they grew up -- Anchorage. I'm still not sure that we've all adjusted to it."

In Baltimore, Obdul liked to visit his aunts and made a second home of the basketball courts on Park Heights Avenue. But he didn't fit in at Northwestern High School and began to skip class. This fall, he ended up at a "last chance" school for truants and dropouts, Harbor City Learning Center on West Saratoga Street.

On Jan. 25, Obdul's mother kissed her eldest son goodbye. She thought he was on his way to school, not knowing that he had not shown up at Harbor City the previous two days, according to attendance records reviewed by The Sun. When Obdul went to school, he always caught the No. 19 bus at the Aisquith Street stop just around the corner, only 87 paces from his front door.

His family never saw him again. On March 1, Mr. Brown led police to where Obdul's body was hidden in an abandoned Catholic school -- only a block from the No. 19 bus route. Detectives think Obdul had been dead since shortly after he was reported missing in January.

On Monday, Obdul's algebra teacher, Kunjamma Abraham, heard the news and broke down in tears. She and other faculty members had begun to see real promise in the quiet boy who had shaved his head and was so attached to his dark winter jacket that he wore it indoors.

Recently, Obdul had given up his seat by the window in Mrs. Abraham's class for a desk right up front, closer to the chalkboard. In English, he got all the questions right on his first test, and teacher Michelle Blue saw him as a special, funny writer.

"I saw his work improving," said Mrs. Abraham, a city schoolteacher for seven years. "I thought he was one of those students who was going to make it."

Pub Date: 3/09/96

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