Washington, DC -- Jan. 27, 2002 -- Stephan McKiver was 15, a typical teenager who liked video games, Subway sandwiches and Eddie Murphy and yearned for his pals back home. So early this month, weeks after his family had moved to North Carolina, he hopped on a Greyhound bus and headed back to Prince George's County to live with an aunt.
His longing for familiarity cost him. Yesterday, Stephan was buried, exactly a week after he was found dead in Northeast Washington, shot twice in the head and once in the chest.
A woman stumbled across his body Jan. 19, in an alley in the 5600 block of Eads Street NE, not far from the Prince George's County border and his home in Capitol Heights. It was about 8:15 a.m., and D.C. police say he probably had been dead about six hours.
Stephan had no identification, just the phone number of a friend inside a pocket. His mother did not find out he had been killed until the next day. Police took four days to release information about the homicide, the city's 10th of the year.
"I never thought in a million years something like this would happen to my son," said Rebecca McKiver, who was back in the area last weekend because she planned to re-enroll Stephan at Suitland High School.
McKiver, 35, went to the medical examiner's office. After identifying Stephan, "I passed out."
Her son, she said, "was just a typical kid. I never had too much trouble out of him, nothing out of the normal. Everybody liked him.
"Well, I guess not everybody," she added.
The slaying was another ugly reminder of the perils young people face in this and other urban areas.
Stephan's mother and his friends say they have heard rumors that he was abducted in Capitol Heights by school gang members and shot in the alley, a neighborhood flush with drug dealers. McKiver said she does not think her son used drugs or knew anyone in that area.
Detectives are saying little about the case.
"We're following up on the investigative leads that are coming to us, and we still need help from the community and people who know anything about this crime," said Capt. Thomas McGuire, head of the department's violent crime branch.
Stephan Maurice McKiver lived with his mother; two sisters, ages 11 and 8; and a brother, 9. His father and mother no longer live together.
At his memorial service yesterday, Lawrence Clark, his government teacher at Suitland, eulogized Stephan as having "a warm smile, an outgoing personality."
And his 11-year old sister, Rictrice, sobbingly told the standing-room-only crowd at the Stewart Funeral Home on Benning Road NE that her brother "was a nice boy, and when I needed something, he would get it for me."
Until the family moved away, the McKiver apartment on Nova Street in Capitol Heights was where the neighborhood kids hung out. They played video games and practiced basketball at a nearby playground. Stephan had played forward on the team at Drew Freeman Middle School.
Stephan "would just make you laugh all the time," said his friend India Ford, 14.
Friends say he was quiet, not the type to get into trouble or mess with drugs. "He's not a person to start trouble with anyone else," said Owen Johnson, 15.
Stephan started high school in the fall.
In October, his grandmother, Ella McKiver Ebron, moved from Capitol Heights to Clinton, N.C., for a quieter life. In late November, his mother followed, taking the children with her.
"I moved to North Carolina so I could be close to my mother," Rebecca McKiver said. "It was nothing about him being safe, because he was never in any trouble." Stephan "didn't know anybody" in the new town. "Houses are really far apart. It was just boring to him."
She told him he could move back to Prince George's County and stay with an aunt in Landover. "Why have him unhappy when I know he's going to be safe, perfectly well?" she reasoned.
She was in town on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Stephan hadn't yet moved in with his aunt, so they stayed with a friend in the old neighborhood. The night of the shooting, she thought her son was staying with his cousins down the block.
"I just keep asking myself, why? It hurts so bad," she said Friday, the day before the funeral, as she sat in a District Heights hair salon, talking about her son. "It's a big void, a big empty space. I'm just going to miss him. I'll never get over this. Never."