- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Residents of a quiet Alexandria, Va., neighborhood expressed cautious relief and anger yesterday, a day after learning police have a possible suspect in the slaying of 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett.
Alexandria police yesterday confirmed earlier reports that a man who lives in the Del Ray section of Alexandria is in custody on various parole violations and is being questioned about the April 19 killing, although they emphasized he is only being questioned.
"No one has been charged with Kevin's homicide and no related charges are pending against this person," said Alexandria police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch. The man reportedly had been released from jail just days before his arrest, police sources said.
The man, who was arrested June 25 on parole violations, was linked to the killing by DNA evidence collected from the back seat of a taxicab the killer took a few blocks away from the crime scene, police sources say. Police got the results of the DNA tests on June 23.
Neighbors said that learning the 29-year-old man lives in the area was unsettling.
"It's more like he's at your back door," said Katie Worosz, who lives in an apartment complex in the 200 block on East Mason Street, four blocks from where Kevin was killed. "If he did it once, it could happen again."
Kevin, a second-grader at Mount Vernon Elementary School, was playing with siblings outside his great-grandparents' house in the 100 block of East Custis Avenue about 3:40 p.m. April 19 when a man attacked him with a knife.
Kevin's killer also wounded the little boy's 80-year-old great-grandmother and a 51-year-old female passer-by, both of whom had tried to protect the boy. The two women have since recovered from their injuries.
The killer then apparently walked east on Custis Avenue toward Mount Vernon Avenue. He got in a cab and ordered the driver to stop on the first exit ramp on the Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge near Oxon Hill and disappeared into the woods leading toward the Potomac River, police said.
DNA linking the man in custody to the cab had been taken from either the hair, blood or other fluids from the back seat, but police said there was no evidence that linked him directly to the crime scene.
Neither Kevin's great-grandmother nor a woman who tried to help the boy during the attack could identify the man a few days ago. The cabdriver also could not identify the man.
Some residents expressed anger at the cab driver, who did not come forward early in the investigation. Police eventually tracked him down more than a week after the killing, on April 28, after interviewing 400 taxi drivers. It had been reported at the time that the man had given the cabdriver a bloody $20 bill.
"Our concern was the trail had gone cold," Del Ray resident Matthew Schwartz said yesterday. "There's just frustration by the fact that there's an individual the cabdriver that had information that could have solved the case but didn't come forward."
Mr. Schwartz, 35, and his wife, Andrea LaRue, have lived in the 100 block of Del Ray Avenue a couple blocks from the killing for five years. They had just returned from vacation Monday and had not heard that a possible suspect was in custody until told by a reporter.
Both of them said, however, that the residents have looked out for one another.
"This is a close-knit type of community," said Mr. Schwartz, who was taking a walk along Mount Vernon Street with his wife and their 16-month-old daughter. "People aren't going to be scared indoors."
Many residents in the area said they feel the police are doing a good job in their search. Yet with months passing since the killing occurred, they still don't feel completely safe.
"It's scary that someone like that was living there the whole time," Miss Worosz said.
A Del Ray resident who asked not to be identified said he thinks the neighborhood isn't any worse off than any other place. The slaying, he said, was a random occurrence.
"I don't see a sane person doing that," said the man, who lives in the 100 block of nearby East Uhler Avenue. "I'm not concerned that it happened here."
The man said it was common knowledge in the neighborhood that the man being questioned had a history of mental illness. Police sources would not say whether the man in custody has a history of mental illness, only that he had been convicted of a malicious-wounding charge sometime around 1994.
Police said the investigation is continuing as they search for more evidence that could link someone to the crime.
According to earlier reports, the man in custody is more than 6 feet tall and weighs around 250 pounds.
But the police composite sketch of the killer and his description seen on posters nearly everywhere in Alexandria is of a much smaller man: He is thought to be between 5-feet-7 and 5-feet-9 inches tall and weighing 150 to 170 pounds.
Since the slaying, 30 investigators have worked on the case full time. In the days after the attack, the entire department was mobilized to check the neighborhood, conduct door-to-door interviews and search throughout Alexandria for clues. Officers used police dogs to search nearby alleys and yards for evidence.
Police set up several interview checkpoints on city streets and detectives have traveled as far as Maryland's Eastern Shore and Richmond to investigate leads.
They have been tracking about 1,800 tips since Kevin was killed. About 200 of those tips were received after the youngster's case was featured April 29 on Fox TV's "America's Most Wanted" show. A $100,000 reward has been established by local businesses and residents hoping to find the killer.
"We've been getting incredible support from the community," Miss Bertsch said Monday. "This case has been our only priority."
In early May, a highway worker found the murder weapon a large kitchen knife on the Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Police also set up a mobile office, similar to a recreational vehicle, a few blocks from the crime scene to serve as a resource center where residents could turn in tips or pick up fliers with information.
Investigators have been using an FBI computer-database program, called Rapid Start, to analyze the massive amount of information on the case. Federal authorities used the program after the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., and the bombings in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center in New York.

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