From the time he was in grade school, Maurice Bellamy struggled to stay focused and control his temper. But within the structure of specialized private schools in Maryland, the young man seemed to show promise.
He won a citizenship award for exhibiting “a model of behavior and social respect,” and he spoke at his eighth-grade graduation. He wanted to run a company and design computer games. Later, at a high school for children with learning disabilities, Bellamy passed all his classes, even earning an A in algebra.
All that changed in December 2013, when his family moved to Southeast Washington. For five weeks, Bellamy, then 15, drifted while his mother tried to get the school system to enroll him at Ballou High School, within walking distance of the family’s new home. When Bellamy finally started classes, absences, bursts of anger and failing grades quickly piled up. He threatened staff members, and was arrested and put on probation.
The city eventually moved the teen to a private school, but he missed more days than he attended.
Those months appear to have marked a steep decline for a young man who, according to authorities, would become a killer at age 17. Police said Bellamy gunned down a 15-year-old boy at the Deanwood Metro station in March because of a glance he thought was disrespectful. Months earlier, police said, the youth fatally shot a Secret Service officer during a robbery. Both victims were strangers to Bellamy.
A city hearing examiner concluded that the D.C. school system had failed Bellamy by allowing him to go for weeks without any schooling, then enrolling him at a large public school that could not provide the help and routine he needed. Bellamy’s private-school placement came after it was ordered by the examiner.
Although much remains unknown about Bellamy, a review of hundreds of pages of education records obtained by The Washington Post provide a window into one key aspect of his life. They show a youth who, despite a long history of troubled behavior, made progress in highly structured settings. But at Ballou, one of the District’s most chaotic schools, Bellamy was essentially lost. He wandered the halls and fell asleep in class, and his impulsive behavior took over.
“We tried to raise him to know right from wrong,” said Bellamy’s grandmother Elizabeth Bellamy, 77, who said she last saw her grandson about a year ago. “I heard that they said he was mad all of the time before he got locked up. I don’t know what went wrong with him. All that I have been doing is praying for him.”
At Bellamy’s first court hearing, a grandfather of the teenage victim’s was struck by the alleged killer’s youthful look. “He’s just a kid himself,” the man said.
Bellamy grew up in the Kentland area of Landover in Prince George’s County, a few streets from the community recreation center. The neighborhood, not far from the District line, is one of the county’s most troubled, a magnet for gangs and crime.
Bellamy’s mother, Keisha Marie Shelton, 39, with whom he lived for much of his youth, works as a bus driver for Metro. Bellamy has a twin sister who attends Ballou and an older brother taking a class at a community college in Northern Virginia. Bellamy’s mother, brother and several friends did not respond to interview requests. His attorney with the District’s Public Defender Service would not comment.
Bellamy had been flagged as far back as grade school for disruptive behavior, especially when he was in large groups or after returning from school breaks. He received a diagnosis with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
One school assessment written when he was 13 noted that Bellamy had a “supportive family who are working to make sure that he is safe and that he is educated.” But it also said that Bellamy lived with his uncle, at that time, because his mother did not trust him to stay home alone while she was at work.
For Bellamy and his friends, the Kentland Community Center was their hangout. They played there as children and used it as a backdrop for pictures on Facebook. The Kentland moniker became incorporated into their gangster-style nicknames — Bellamy called himself “Kentland MO” and “SHOOTA MO,” his friends LilMario Frm Kentland, Ray Frm DaZoo and Kentland Zoo Moore.
The center’s regional director, Antoinette Guerry, recalled Bellamy as polite and respectful and said he helped set up chairs for events and retreated to the game room to play pool and foosball. As a young teen, he participated in the center’s Extreme Teen and Safe Summer Program that kept the doors open until midnight. “He never talked bad about anyone,” Guerry said.
From Bellamy was at an early age, Prince George’s schools recognized his learning challenges and set up what is called an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. Such plans set out blueprints for educating students who have special needs.
Maryland educators concluded that the public schools could not provide him the help he needed and placed him at taxpayer expense in a private K-8 special-education school in Chillum, Md., operated by the Children’s Guild.
A 2012 report from the Children’s Guild highlighted a theme that carried throughBellamy’s future assessments: He performed well when focused on organized activities that he liked, such as basketball, football and hands-on science projects. He earned the citizenship award and expressed interest in computer gaming.
“It would be cool to own a company and design the game myself,” he told a psychologist.
A group of educators wrote that Bellamy “likes to socialize and to have fun with his peers, and he enjoys the sense of family that he has.”
But, the educators also concluded, “when faced with a choice that can affect himself and others, Maurice has demonstrated poor impulse control as he will act before he thinks about what he is doing.”
He was disciplined for taking alcohol to school and for leaving his classes to attend a different class’s field trip. The psychologist wrote that Bellamy had mood swings, was physically and verbally aggressive toward other students and “appears to be sad at times . . . angry because he does not have control over his life.”
Andrew Ross, president and chief executive of the Children’s Guild, said in a statement that Bellamy had been one of the eighth-grade commencement speakers, had excelled in sports and that his grades had steadily improved. “This is truly a tragic outcome for a boy who showed promise in overcoming his circumstances,” Ross said.
In 2013, Bellamy started his high school career at High Road Academy, Maryland, a private school with low student-to-teacher ratios. His first teachers wrote that Bellamy “has great potential” and “needs to continue to work on his behavior when he becomes upset.”
By the end of his second term, Bellamy was passing all classes. He completed the term with an A in algebra, a B in health and C’s in English and history, but his pace of absences was increasing. High Road officials declined to comment.
Source: The Washington Post | Peter Hermann, Hamil R. Harris, Emma Brown