Kidnapping leads vanish

Witnesses to alleged abduction stop talking after teens return, police say

April 08, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

Nearly a week after six masked gunman forced their way into a Catonsville home and three days after the teenage brothers they kidnapped were dropped off at Baltimore County police headquarters, authorities say they are no closer to answering the most basic questions about the incident - including whether the alleged crimes they are investigating actually occurred.

Although the teenagers spoke briefly with detectives Friday afternoon, Stephon Blackwell, 16, and his 15-year-old brother, Sterling Blackwell, declined to tell officers anything other than their identities and that they were "alive and well," said Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman.

Since then, he said, detectives have also been unable to get any information from the other eight people who were in the Catonsville house when the home invasion, kidnapping and a sexual assault are alleged to have occurred.

"We don't know if they're lying or telling the truth. We don't know if this was staged. We don't know if a sexual assault actually occurred or if it is being used to distract from something else - and that's a terrible thing to have to say," Hill said yesterday. "The reality is that we have 10 victims who are totally uncooperative."

He added, "We are no further toward understanding what happened than we were last Tuesday."

Local, state and federal authorities spent three days last week searching for the Blackwell brothers in a disappearance that appeared to be linked to Baltimore's drug trade.

The pair's older brother is Steven "JR" Blackwell Jr., an East Baltimore man who has been convicted of drug possession, manufacturing and distribution offenses and has been charged with attempted murder, court records show. Their father, Steven Blackwell Sr., 48, is serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for heroin offenses, records show.

Police were called to the house - in the 600 block of Plymouth Road, just off Edmondson Avenue and just a few blocks west of the Baltimore city line - at 11 a.m. April 1.

Three neighbors had called 911 to variously report shooting on the street and a kidnapping and to make a less specific request for police to check out whatever was going on at the two-story yellow house. Neighbors said the home has attracted an unusual amount of late-night activity - and a large number of expensive vehicles, all sporting temporary license plates - since tenants moved in a year or so ago.

When police arrived, they learned that the home's 10 occupants - including the teenage Blackwell brothers and their mother - had been bound and gagged for eight hours.

The masked intruders left when they got word that a relative - identified by a source as Steven Blackwell Jr. - was on his way to the house.

One of the gunmen fired a shot at the older brother as the intruders left with the teenagers. They drove off in a BMW convertible that was owned by someone in the house and in the gray or silver Chevrolet Suburban in which the intruders arrived.

From the start, police were hampered in their investigation, Hill said.

The eight remaining occupants initially refused to cooperate with police. Two men were taken from the house in handcuffs and detained for questioning. No charges were filed.

Eventually, the mother of the abducted boys agreed to answer detectives' questions, the police spokesman said, and a few others became more helpful.

That assistance, however, has dried up since the boys' return.

It remains unclear where the teenagers were during their absence and how they came to be dropped off at police headquarters in Towson. A source familiar with the investigation said it was the teens' older brother who took them there Friday.

They arrived at 3:15 p.m. and were released within an hour, Hill said.

"They told us who they were. They told us they were alive and well. And they told us, `Thank you. Now it's time for us to go,'" the spokesman said. "So we absolutely don't know what happened."

Baltimore defense attorney Warren A. Brown said he was contacted Thursday afternoon to help broker the safe return of the brothers by a man believed to be close to their family.

Although the Baltimore County police spokesman said that Brown was representing the Blackwell brothers, the defense attorney said that was not the case.

Brown said yesterday that he has not spoken with the brothers and had no information about where they had been or what happened during the time that police were searching for them.

"The person who contacted me was, I assume, acting on behalf of the family and wanting me to serve as a drop-off," the defense attorney said. "As it turned out, the drop-off was with Baltimore County police."

Although investigators remain uncertain whether the alleged home invasion, kidnapping and sexual assault were actual crimes or staged events, Hill said, police have an obligation to continue their investigation until they run out of leads.

"In a routine type of kidnapping investigation, you would be able to debrief a victim and obtain significant information about their whereabouts, the character of the kidnappers, the offense that initiated it and what transpired later," he said. "In this situation, that has not happened, and we do not have that information."

Hill added, "An incident that occurs like this certainly puts a community in fear. To not be able to answer some of the questions that you are asking and the public is asking and that we want to get answered is difficult."

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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