ELKTON — Michelle Hammond is the mother of Isiah Lavonte McCargo, a 16-year-old who stands accused of raping two women — one at knifepoint, the other at gunpoint — and of attempting to sexually assault three others in downtown Elkton between September and July.
But her relationship to him isn’t the reason that Hammond is convinced her son did not commit any of those crimes, the first of which reportedly having occurred when McCargo was 15 and, more importantly, when he was living more than 15 miles away from Elkton.
“He was living with his old football coach and his family in Rising Sun at that time. He was enrolled in Rising Sun High School and that’s where he attended school. He had no reason to be in Elkton and no way to get to Elkton on his own, even if he did have a reason. He doesn’t drive,” Hammond said Tuesday. “There is no way he could have done it. Police are saying my son was lingering in town (Elkton) in the middle of night, following prostitutes and carefully selecting his victims. But he was still able to get back in time to go to school in Rising Sun the next morning? It’s just not possible.”
Her son stands accused of raping and robbing a woman at knifepoint in an alley near Mackall and Osage streets either late at night or early in the morning at some point between September and December.
The woman did not report the rape to Elkton Police Department investigators until Aug. 5, about seven to 11 months after it purportedly had occurred. The victim’s assailant reportedly stole $96 out of her jacket while raping her, the woman told investigators, court records show.
“That makes no sense. She can’t remember if she was raped in September, or October, or November or December, because too much time had passed, but she still remembers that it was $96 taken from her?” Hammond questioned, adding, “That’s your body being violated and you can’t even come even close to remembering when? Really? But you remember the $96?”
Street talk triggers
By the time that woman had come forward on Aug. 5, EPD detectives already were more than two months into an investigation triggered by reports of a rapist that had been preying on women who, due to their “high-risk lifestyles,” including prostitution and drug use, were considered easy targets because they would be less likely to report attacks to police, according to court records.
That alleged victim gave her account reluctantly — and only after learning that the same suspect may have raped other women in Elkton and after investigators had tracked her down to discuss the purported incident, court records show.
Investigators believe that the person responsible for the rash of sexual assaults was “very selective” in choosing his victims and calculating in carrying out the attacks, which typically occurred late at night or early in the morning, police said.
They also typically occurred after the suspect, who was often seen on a “mountain style bike,” approached the women and engaged them in conversation before forcing them to nearby secluded areas, police added.
The investigation started in late May after a “confidential informant” contacted EPD detectives and alerted them to a major topic of conversation within the street population, reported Capt. Joseph Zurolo, an EPD spokesman, noting that no victims had come forward at that point.
Part of the investigation involved detectives tracking down possible rape victims and interviewing them, according to Zurolo.
Investigators were able to develop McCargo as a suspect, according to court records, which do not detail how they did it except to note that the alleged victims picked a picture of McCargo out of a six-photo lineup and identified him as the assailant.
On Aug. 8, EPD Cpl. Sean Murphy, lead investigator, arrested McCargo at his family’s residence in the unit block of Transom Court in Elkton in connection with the reported rape and armed robbery that occurred between September and December.
Charged as an adult with first-degree rape and numerous other offenses in that case, McCargo was held without bond in the Cecil County Detention Center, before he was transferred to the Prince George’s County Detention, which has a segregated section for incarcerated juveniles.
Late last week, investigator filed two new criminal cases against McCargo, including one in which he is accused of raping a 22-year-old woman at gunpoint in a secluded spot behind a residence on Curtis Avenue sometime between April 1 and May 16, court records show.
In the other latest filed criminal case — it encompasses three separate incidents — McCargo stands accused of trying to rape a woman shortly before midnight July 14 in the 200 block of West High Street; another woman about 3:15 a.m. May 31 near Howard and South Bridge streets; and another woman about 5 a.m. May 31, less than hours later, near the U.S. Post Office on West Main Street. The women were able to break free, police reported.
McCargo is facing a total of 40 charges in the three criminal cases filed against him.
Defending the suspect
Hammond acknowledges that her son was back living in her family’s Elkton home when the rape and three attempted rapes occurred earlier this year.
She also realizes that her argument about McCargo living too far away to have been able to commit the crime doesn’t apply in those four incidents, as she believes it does regarding last year’s rape.
It makes no difference, though, according to Hammond.
“Anyone who knows my son, knows his character. He was raised to respect women, and he does,” Hammond said. “Anyone who knows my son knows that he didn’t do it, that he couldn’t have done it. I’m a woman before I’m anything else, so, if someone is out there doing this, violating women, I want them caught. But the person doing this is not my son.”
It’s an assertion also backed up by Helen Hennessey, mother of McCargo’s former girlfriend, who has known McCargo since third grade and welcomed him into her home on a regular basis as a part of her family.
“I took him to and from football practices and even tied his tie when he escorted my daughter to homecoming,” she told the Whig in an email Wednesday. “He was never violent with either of my teenage daughters and I have no fear of leaving them alone in a room together. Isiah is a shy, laid back kid. He would never do or say any of those things to a lady, he is nothing but respectful.”
Regarding the rape and attempted rapes that occurred while her son was back living in Elkton, Hammond commented, “They’re (police) saying the suspect in the ones this year had the same M.O. as the one last year. All that means is the real rapist is still out there, using the same M.O. It’s not my son. It may be someone who looks like my son, but it’s not Isiah.”
As far as the rape that occurred last year, according to Hammond, her son has a solid geographic alibi that can be corroborated by George Hendrickson and his wife, Deanna, who live near Rising Sun, according to Hammond.
George Hendrickson coached McCargo from age 7 through 14 when the boy played on Hendrickson’s Cherry Hill Cougars football team, which is part of the Cecil County Junior Football League. McCargo was a star running back, according to Hammond and the Deanna Hendrickson. (George Hendrickson could not be reached for this article.)
Deanna, 39, and Hammond graduated from Elkton High School together and have maintained their friendship — to the point that Deanna asked if McCargo could live with her family and Hammond accepted.
“I have six boys and I’m a single mom. I thought it would be good for (McCargo) to live in a home where there is a dad and a mom, with structure and positive activities,” outlined Hammond, whose six sons range from 16 to 23 in age, with McCargo being the youngest.
Deanna explained, “I let Michelle know that we weren’t trying to steal Isiah. It’s just that he liked hanging out with us. He even called me mom. We just thought it would help Michelle.”
McCargo, who lived with theHendricksons from June 2015 through January, had his own bedroom and attended Rising Sun High School as a sophomore. (Next week, he would have started his junior year at Elkton High School, his mother reported.)
McCargo went on vacations with the Hendricksons and regularly attended church with them during his stay, Deanna said, noting that McCargo was baptized while living with them.
Because weak grades kept him off the high school football team, the teen helped George Hendrickson coach his junior football team every weekday night from about 6 to 8 p.m., putting family dinner somewhere around 10 p.m. and then the completion of homework or television watching around 11:30 p.m., she added.
“Every night, he was with my husband helping him, before they came home for dinner,” Deanna said.
When she checked on McCargo around midnight or even later, Deanna sometimes found him still watching TV in his bedroom or in the living room, she recalled. Deanna said she would urge him to go to sleep so he’d be ready for school the next day.
“I was just a mom being a mom. If I woke up, I’d check on them,” Deanna said, explaining that she and George have a son close to McCargo’s age who also was living with them and that the two teens treated each other like brothers.
McCargo made the high school’s junior varsity basketball team in November, meaning that his after-school and, or, evening activities involved practice and games, according to Deanna.
So, aside from sleeping, school and practice, McCargo was seldom out of the sight of the Hendrickson family, Deanna said. The couple also had given McCargo a cellphone, which he used to make his whereabouts known to him, she added.
News of McCargo’s rape and attempted rape charges devastated Deanna and her husband because, according to her, they strongly believe he isn’t even capable of committing such a crime, that it would be inconsistent with his personality.
And the news about the rape McCargo allegedly committed between September and December hit even closer to home.
“It happened on our watch because he (McCargo) was living with us at that time. He was attending Rising Sun High School. The school was sending all of his paperwork to us. We were watching him,” Deanna said. “I cried when we learned all of this.”
From a logistical standpoint, it would have been nearly impossible for McCargo to have committed that rape last year, she said.
“That’s why none of this makes sense and why we’re so shocked. You’re telling me that he snuck out a window in our house in Rising Sun, hopped on this mysterious bicycle, rode 20 miles to Elkton, looked for a prostitute and then did horrible things to her and then rode his bicycle back 20 miles to our home. He was home with us every morning when we got up,” Deanna said, adding, “The bicycle they (police) say he was seen riding is mysterious, I say, because he didn’t have a bicycle.”
Deanna told the Whig that McCargo moved back into his mother’s Elkton residence in early January because extenuating circumstances had placed a financial and emotional strain on the Hendrickson family.