Slain UM student was great scholar, well liked, family says
Relatives, friends say 22-year-old was not drug target as police allege
Friends and family say slain University of Maryland, College Park, student Justin DeSha-Overcash was a bright young man preparing for an even brighter future. For them, police accounts that the senior astronomy and physics major was fatally shot in a targeted drug killing were just as shocking as the news of his death.
"I'm not going to tell you my son was perfect; no one is," said his mother, Karen DeSha, of Bel Air. "This was not a drug target. It was something way beyond, but I don't know what yet."
DeSha-Overcash, 22, was killed Tuesday in the College Park group house he rented with several other students when he was shot by a man in a ski mask who had entered the home, Prince George's County police said. Karen DeSha said she was told by detectives that the man forced his way in the house, holding her son at gunpoint.
"I don't want to think about how scared he was. I could hear him trying to diffuse the situation. What do you want? Chill, man,'" she said. "For such a wonderful life to have such a tragic ending ... I know he was scared, and I don't like that."
County police have since said they found a digital scale, drug-packing materials and an amount of marijuana large enough to indicate intent to sell inside the 38th Avenue home and that DeSha-Overcash's "lifestyle" led to him being targeted. Police have not confirmed where inside the home the drugs were found.
"I feel like he's just No. 11 of the homicides in Prince George's County, and [police] are just making accusations," said former girlfriend Kara Sarvey, 22, of Doylestown, Pa. "I don't think a lot of people close to him think it's true."
The slaying of DeSha-Overcash was the 11th homicide reported in 11 days in the county. The total has since risen to 13 homicides in 11 days in the string of mostly unrelated killings.
"What I know of Justin doesn't jive with him being a drug dealer," said Elizabeth Warner, the coordinator at the University of Maryland Observatory where DeSha-Overcash worked part time.
DeSha-Overcash was a native of North Carolina who carried a southern drawl and feverish passion for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels even years after moving north to Pennsylvania before starting college, said both Warner and Sarvey. He was friendly and outgoing with everyone he met.
"He was comfortable talking to his teachers. He had no problem coming by my office and stopping by to say hello," Warner said. "That was pretty cool. You don't have students usually saying hi."
From a young age, DeSha-Overcash excelled in school and showed great ambition, his mother said.
"At age 5, a fun Saturday was doing math problems. ... At the age of 7, he told me, Mommy, I'm going to be a physicist,'" said Karen DeSha of her only child.
DeSha-Overcash's academic ability and friendly nature carried on throughout college as he worked both as a teacher's assistant and a tutor, Warner said. He was due to graduate this semester, Sarvey said.
"He affected a lot of lives in a really positive way," said Karen DeSha.
Police are still investigating the case and are offering a $25,000 reward for information.
Anyone with information about it is asked to call the Prince George's County Police Department's Homicide Unit at 301-772-4925. Callers who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-8477 or text "PGPD (plus the message)" to CRIMES (274637) on a cell phone or visit www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/police/ to submit a tip online.