Dawit Seyoum, suspect in slaying of D.C. corrections official, held without bond
by Matt Zapotosky and Justin Jouvenal,
Carolyn Cross had her bags packed. The deputy director of corrections in D.C. was set, a colleague said, to leave on Sunday for a work conference in Atlanta.
But when Cross’s daughter arrived that morning to give her a ride to the airport, Cross was dead inside, according to police and a colleague. A stranger had apparently tailed her as she walked into the brick-faced, high-rise building in Alexandria that she called home, then killed her after she went inside her fifth-floor apartment, police said.
“You don’t know when tragedy is going to strike,” Alexandria Police Chief Earl L. Cook said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
The killing, Alexandria’s fourth of the year, left Cross’s neighbors and officials in the District in mourning. Cross had spent 35 years working in corrections, starting as a corrections officer and ascending the ranks to become the first woman to supervise one of Lorton prison’s juvenile facilities, authorities said. She also held deputy warden and warden posts at correctional facilities in Florida, Virginia and the District, and she spearheaded the effort to get the now-closed maximum security facility at Lorton certified to standards set by the American Correctional Association.
“It’s fitting she had her bags packed, not to go on a vacation, but to further her career as a corrections executive,” said D.C. Corrections Director Tom Faust. “Her whole life has been dedicated to the District. It’s a loss for us and the whole community.”
Dawit Seyoum (Alexandria Police)
Alexandria police charged Dawit S. Seyoum, 29, with first-degree murder in Cross’s death. Seyoum, authorities said, lived in a neighboring high-rise — also on the fifth floor — though Cross did not appear to know him. They said the killing did not seem to have anything to do with Cross’s work, though they declined to provide a more specific motive.
Seyoum was ordered held without bond Monday morning, after appearing via video feed in Alexandria General District Court. His wrists were wrapped, and he had what appeared to be bandages just below his biceps. An official familiar with the case said he had suffered self-inflicted wounds.
Seyoum responded simply “yes” to a question from a judge and was told he must reappear for a preliminary hearing on Oct. 15. A lawyer representing all the inmates processed Monday provided no information on his behalf.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter declined to comment on the case.
The slaying — startling in its own right — bore some similarities to another unsolved murder in Alexandria in July. In that case, 43-year-old Asabech Abayneh — an Ethiopian immigrant who worked at a Falls Church cafe and market — was found strangled to death inside her apartment, a little more than a mile away from Cross’s.
Yonas Mekonen, Abayneh’s nephew, said he noticed similarities in the killings, but he did not immediately recognize Seyoum by face or name, nor had police told him of any connection between the cases.
Cook said detectives would probe connections between Cross’s slaying and other crimes in Alexandria. But police said it was not connected to three high-profile killings in the city over the past decade, announcing on Monday that grand jurors had indicted a longtime suspect in those cases and telling reporters he seemed to act alone.
On Monday, a police officer sat outside Cross’s apartment typing on a laptop and preventing people from walking farther down the hall, where yellow crime scene tape was visible.
Darryl McDonald, 60, who lives in a different corridor on the same floor, said he came out of his apartment about 10:15 a.m. Sunday to find Alexandria police officers filling the hallway where Cross lives. He called the incident “sad” and uncharacteristic for the Seminary Towers apartment complex on Kenmore Avenue that might see some domestic squabbles but is populated otherwise by “cosmopolitan” renters, some with families and some with international ties.
“It’s very safe,” McDonald said. “Security and everything is pretty good here.”
Getting into the building requires card access, though people came in and out frequently Monday and held the door for others.
Alexandria police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said Seyoum was not at the scene of the crime when police arrived, but investigators were exploring him as a possible suspect by Sunday afternoon. She said he was taken into custody “in the same general area” that the incident occurred, though she was unsure whether he was at his own apartment or elsewhere.
Nosal declined to say what prompted the attack or exactly how it occurred, except to say it was likely that Seyoum followed Cross into her building. She also declined to say how Cross died, referring that question to the medical examiner’s office.
A medical examiner’s official said he could not release the cause and manner of death because Cross’s family members had yet to be told those details.
Efforts to reach Cross’s family members were unsuccessful. But colleagues and even D.C.’s mayor said her death would be felt acutely.
Cross was a native Washingtonian and attended college at the University of the District of Columbia, authorities said. Faust said Cross also volunteered for domestic violence groups and was a past board member for the United Way. For the last two years, she served on the board of Voices for a Second Chance, an organization that helps former inmates reintegrate into society.
Paula Thompson, the executive director, said Cross’s loss would ripple far beyond the organization because of her deep knowledge and dedication.
“It’s a great loss to the whole corrections community in the District,” Thompson said. “She knew all the workings of the system because she had worked her way up through it.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) offered his condolences in a statement, calling Cross’s killing a tragedy.
“Carolyn Cross was a top-notch professional who, in recent years, helped transform the Department of Corrections into a nationally accredited agency,” Gray said in the statement. “This is a terrible loss for the Department and for the District.”
Keith Alexander, Rachel Weiner and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.