Man's killer is still sought

Family and police are mystified by shooting of driver in Ellicott City

November 25, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Moeen Sadiq Raja's family believes that nothing in his life can explain the way he died.

He was found fatally shot behind the wheel of his green 2005 Honda Accord late at night on the parking lot of an Ellicott City apartment complex, near a townhouse where his family had lived years ago.

Raja, 21, who was born and raised in Maryland, had no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket. According to relatives, he was a young man from a tight-knit Pakistani family with plans to become a doctor and no history of trouble.

But why was he sitting on the parking lot at 11:45 p.m. on a Friday in June? That question has perplexed Howard County detectives, who say they have had few good leads and no witnesses have come forward.

Since Moeen Raja's death, his extended family has held vigils on the parking lot where he was killed, sought media attention and repeatedly pressed police for answers. The family also has pooled its resources and offered a $40,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Five months later, the unsolved killing remains an aberration in Howard County. Before the killing, police had arrested a suspect in every homicide since early 2005. In this case, the killer likely did not know Raja very well and arrived and fled quickly, said Capt. Tara Nelson, chief of the county's criminal investigations bureau.

"Unlike most of the homicides in Howard County, we don't believe this is domestic-related, and also, unlike other cases, we don't believe there was a prior argument or encounter," she said. "We generally do not deal with as much mystery and unknowns."

Police received multiple 911 calls the night of the shooting. After shots were fired, people rushed to help the injured driver, and others ran inside to call police or grab keys to move their cars, which were hit by Raja's Accord as he tried to flee, mortally wounded.

At the time of his death, Raja had completed two years at Catonsville Community College and two courses at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and had deferred admission to the Medical University of the Americas, which is on the Caribbean island of Nevis. He had held entry-level retail and restaurant jobs but was not working when he was killed.

No drugs were found at the scene of the shooting, according to police. Moeen Raja did not smoke cigarettes and called drinking "degenerative," his brother, Imran Raja, said. Raja's belongings were left in the car untouched, including a laptop, Imran Raja said.

"He didn't have any enemies, and in fact, he didn't talk to many people at all," Imran Raja said.

On the night his death, Moeen Raja watched the hourlong Man vs. Wild show on the Discovery Channel at 9 p.m., as he did every Friday, said his mother, Munazza Raja. He then told her he that he was going to the BP gasoline station on U.S. 40, near the family's Ellicott City townhouse to buy soda and calling cards.

Moeen Raja used the cards to call his brother, who was attending medical school in the Caribbean. Worried because Moeen had not returned from the gas station, his mother called Imran to ask him to find Moeen.

She said she was relieved to learn that Imran was on the other phone line with Moeen at that moment.

"He didn't tell me where he was," Imran Raja said of the phone conversation, believed to be Moeen's last. "He said he was outside, and I just assumed he had stepped outside the house. ... There was nothing at all in the conversation that indicated he was in trouble or engaged. There were no voices in the background. He was relaxed."

After learning of the killing, Imran, 23, flew home. He said that he was not surprised that his brother had been sitting on the parking lot on West Springs Drive.

On Imran's previous visit home, the two had driven to the same parking lot. Imran said that he drank beer and smoked, but Moeen did not. Moeen even forced Imran out of the car when he lit a cigarette because he did not want the smell in his car, Imran Raja said.

Moeen Raja, a 2002 graduate of Mount Hebron High School, knew the neighborhood because his family had lived in a townhouse behind the parking lot for six years. Imran said he and his brother would go there as well as to the UMBC library to "reminisce" and get out of the house.

Imran Raja said they assumed the parking lot was safe.

"Now, I know what's back there," Imran Raja said of the neighborhood's reputation for drugs and robberies. "But we used to live 100 yards away and we got off of the bus about 200 yards away. We would walk through there every day and never got robbed or had anyone approach us."

Despite the area's reputation, police records do not support it. No robberies or drug-related crimes were reported in the 3100 block of West Springs Drive from Jan. 1 to Moeen Raja's June 22 death, according to police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

"At this stage, the family is telling us that this was a habit, that he had gone there on prior occasions," Nelson said. "All indications are that he was in a relaxed state in the vehicle."

Imran Raja said he believes someone either tried to rob his brother or insulted him. Had his brother been offended, he would not have ignored it, Imran Raja said.

"He wasn't the type to hold back," he said. "If someone said something or threatened him, he would not be intimidated."

Howard homicides by year

2001: 5

2002: 7

2003: 7

2004: 1

2005: 4

2006: 4

2007 to date: 5

[ Source: Howard County Police]

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