LOCAL AND FEDERAL authorities have not labeled the fatal stabbing of a white boy by a black man a hate crime, but the Justice Department is monitoring the investigation by Alexandria, Va., police.
Recently revealed evidence indicates the attacker, who was black, targeted 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett because he was white.
Witnesses have told police the killer made comments about hating white people during the attack, law enforcement sources say.
“We are certainly aware of the situation, and we are aware of the recent media reports that this could be racially motivated," said Kara Peterman, a spokeswoman with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "At this time, we are monitoring the situation."
Ms. Peterman refused to elaborate on what the department's involvement has been, or could be, in the high profile case. A Justice Department source said that authorities are waiting for more information about the case before any action is taken.
The source also said authorities would look at violations of civil rights laws if they pursued the case.
Amy Bertsch, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria Police Department, would not discuss whether police are considering the homicide as a hate crime or any other details of the case.
Despite a report in The Washington Times yesterday that investigators withheld racially sensitive information from their fellow officers - which may have hindered the 13-week-old investigation, law enforcement officials said - Alexandria officials praised the efforts of the city's police.
"What they did was proper," said council member Joyce Woodson, a Democrat. "We already live in a racially charged world. I don't think knowing that would have had any impact on the way they investigated the case. It could have colored their approach [to the case] in ways that would have been inappropriate."
Mayor Kerry Donley said police and city officials have been focused on finding Kevin's killer and bringing that person to justice. "Efforts to sensationalize this investigation will only hurt this investigation," said Mr. Donley, a Democrat.
Council member William Euille, a Democrat, said based on what he heard, he thinks the police have done a "thorough" job in investigating the case.
"I don't know if that information [about keeping secret the racially sensitive details] is factual," said Mr. Euille. "It would be unfortunate if it were a fact, but I'm presuming that it's not. My faith and confidence rests with our police department."
But some residents in the Del Ray neighborhood where Kevin was killed expressed disappointment with police yesterday after learning that investigators kept secret racially sensitive details of the fatal attack.
"I don't like the truth to be held from me," said Loretta Trout, a Del Ray resident whose grandson Timmy played with Kevin minutes before the attack occurred.
"I want to know what I'm dealing with. I'm more frightened of the unknown than the known. I can handle the known. But being so secretive, it makes you think [about] what's really going on," Mrs. Trout said.
Carol Jones, a Del Ray resident, also expressed anger with the police. "I'd like to have known the entire picture if the police knew that from the beginning. This is a case where a child was murdered. They should not have hidden that kind of information."
Others, however, supported the police.
"I don't know if [knowing racially sensitive details] would have helped any," said Norman Bragg, a Del Ray resident. "Although I would have liked to have seen an arrest happen sooner, but something like this takes time."
A Del Ray resident who did not want to be identified said, "If [the police] knew that kind of information they might have lost their sense of direction in this case.
"Without any solid evidence to support that they could have focused in the wrong direction and wouldn't have caught the killer or found the cabdriver or found the knife."
Kevin was playing in the front yard of his great-grandparents' home in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood April 19 when a man attacked him with a knife without provocation, police said.
A man roughly fitting the attacker's description, in custody in Fairfax County on unrelated charges, has been connected by DNA evidence to a taxi the killer took after the slaying, law enforcement sources said.
That man, Gregory Devon Murphy, 29, who lived a few blocks from where Kevin was killed, served five years in prison for a charge of malicious wounding for attacking a white man with a hammer in 1993 - apparently without provocation.
Police last week found a note with the phrase, "Kill them racist white kids" in broken and misspelled English in a hotel room where Mr. Murphy stayed two days before Kevin's slaying.
Police have not named Mr. Murphy as a suspect or charged him in connection with Kevin's killing.
Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this report.
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