Slain students honored at memorial program Residents of town in Florida join mourners here

September 13, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

A caption for a photo accompanying a story Sunday in the Howard edition of The Sun incorrectly identified mothers of two men slain last spring in Florida. Christine Neperud is the mother of Matthew Wichita. Jill Carter is the mother of Kevans Bradshaw Hall II.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Relatives and friends were joined yesterday by a delegation of teen-agers from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., in a memorial program for two Columbia men who were beaten and stabbed to death in April on a college spring break vacation in the small oceanfront town.

"This is not going to lessen your pain," the Rev. John Liebler, pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman Episcopal Church in New Smyrna Beach and organizer of the trip, told the families of the slain Kevans Bradshaw Hall II, 23, and Matthew Wichita, 21, "but we wanted to let you know that our town grieved as well."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

More than 100 people attended the program at Oakland Mills High School, where two freshly planted maple trees and a plaque were dedicated near the main entrance in honor of Hall and Wichita -- graduates there along with a survivor of the attack, Seth Quebeck, 21.

"This is a town where boys and girls hold hands and walk together on the beach," said Gene Barlowe, a youth leader who was among the six adults and eight teen-agers from New Smyrna Beach. "It's where people go to pick up seashells and where boys surf after the hurricanes pass by and the waves are high."

The killings of Hall and Wichita were the only violent deaths this year in the town -- largely a retirement community -- south of Daytona Beach.

Police said the incident occurred after Hall and Wichita had tried to aid a woman being harassed by seven local men. The group left, but soon returned to stab and beat the three Columbia men with baseball bats.

"We came here as a simple expression of caring and love from one community to another," Liebler said in the emotional service outside the high school. "This is part of the healing process for us too."

Though none of the New Smyrna Beach residents had met Hall and Wichita, they said the town continued to mourn their deaths.

"We all hurt a little because of the deaths of these two," said Tim Leonard, 16, of New Smyrna Beach. "We are here to say that we care and that violence is not the answer."

The Florida youths went door to door, raising money toward the trip and the purchase of the trees and plaque. The Restorative Justice Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that monitors crime and its impact, donated $3,000.

"I thought this was a significant step towards healing," said William T. Preston, co-founder of the institute and a senior lay leader at St. Peter the Fisherman Episcopal Church.

"This is a wonderful gesture," said Christine Neperud, the mother of Matthew Wichita. "It's a comfort knowing that these trees are here, and I can see them as they grow."

Neperud said that her son was in his third year at Howard Community College and preparing to enter Villa Julie College on a basketball scholarship. "He was going to major in computer science," she said. "He was a good kid."

Friends of Wichita and Hall exchanged hugs with family members, and consoled one another throughout the service.

"We miss them so much," said Jenn Steward, 21. "We won't ever forget them."

"We're dealing with this day by day, but it is very difficult," said Michael Wichita, Matthew's father, who plans to attend the trial of five of the suspects scheduled in January in New Smyrna Beach.

Two of the seven implicated in the attack have pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and are cooperating in the investigation, authorities say.

Brothers James and Neil Kirkland are to be tried on charges of aggravated battery, and brothers Jonathan, Christopher and Joshua Trull on charges of first-degree murder with the possibility of the death penalty.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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