COLLEGE PARK – “It’s quiet. Real quiet,” says Elsy Guevara, standing on her front steps as her two young daughters, Heidi and Kahyla Rodriguez, fidget beside her — and the silence on the street is almost audible.
Twelve-year-old Heidi doesn’t want her family to move. Two streets away from the site of a murder-suicide — the second murder in a little over two years — she feels safe.
Nestled between University Boulevard and Metzerott Road, Crystal Springs — a neighborhood of brick-and-siding, tract houses mostly built in the 1970s that line five narrow dead-end streets — is home to both families and University of Maryland students.
More than 700 people live in about 200 housing units in Crystal Springs, according to the College Park Housing Plan, approved in 2003, making the neighborhood without sidewalks one of the densest in the city.
The census tract is bordered by the university campus, Route I, Metzerott Road and Adelphi Road. According to the American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau, the area is more than 71 percent white, but a stroll through Crystal Springs indicates a more diverse neighborhood composition.
Many residents of the single-family neighborhood called the murder-suicide that killed two university students on Feb. 12 an isolated incident.
“Everybody was shocked,” said Faison Kenan, a retired resident who has lived in the neighborhood with his wife for 11 years.
On Feb 12, Dayvon Green, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Maryland, shot two of his roommates, before killing himself. One of the roommates, 22-year-old Neal Oa, suffered non-life threatening injuries, while 22-year-old Alex Rane was killed. Green was reportedly prescribed medications for a mental illness.
A landlord who owns a property on 34th Avenue said the recent shooting was “unfortunate,” but he does not think it will turn away prospective renters.
The neighborhood is less than one mile from campus, but it’s not full of renters. Roughly 60 percent of the houses are owner-occupied, according to 2003 College Park Planning Department data.
Residents said the recent event is uncharacteristic of a neighborhood whose only other memorable crime in recent years was another murder: 22-year-old Justin Vance Desha-Overcash was slain there in January 2011.
“Two murders in three years does not make an unsafe neighborhood,” District 1 Councilman Patrick Wojahn said. “Because people may not be as aware of the (crime) history of the area, that certainly will impact the perception of safety.”
Desha-Overcash died from gunshot wounds after being struck in the face with a glass jar in an attempted robbery near his home in the 8800 block of 38th Avenue. Police found a digital scale and enough marijuana to indicate an intent to distribute.
The shooter, Deandre Ricardo Williams, 23, of the District, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was later sentenced to 49 years in prison. Williams’ accomplice Stephan Weaver, 22, of Bowie pleaded guilty to attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and was sentenced to 15 years.
There have been four reported robberies in Crystal Springs since 2008.
But the two shooting deaths in less than three years have done little to detract from some residents’ sense of safety and security.
“I leave my car open, sometimes the window down. It’s really safe here,” Guevara said.
Many students still choose to rent in Crystal Springs with its $500 monthly rates because of the comparatively high costs at complexes like the Courtyards, Varsity and University View, which can run from $600 to $1,300.
Stamos Biliris, a junior at the University of Maryland who has lived in the area for more than a year, was nearly mugged while walking home from the neighborhood’s Shuttle-UM bus stop about six months ago.
“If I’m walking anywhere around here, I make sure I’m walking with a bunch of other people. That’s the only reason (the muggers) failed,” Biliris said.
An anti-theft steering wheel lock is used in a car parked outside of Biliris’ home on 34th Avenue, where he lives with four roommates.
Since 2008, there have been 14 reports of stolen vehicles in the neighborhood, according to Prince George’s County Police.
But across the narrow street, only five houses away, 22-year-old senior studio art major Justin Hutton maintains the neighborhood is safe and doesn’t see “too much action.”
Like the city and university, long-term and student residents in Crystal Springs calmly coexist, despite different backgrounds and lifestyles. Mostly keeping to themselves, interactions between neighborhoods are infrequent, but friendly.
“We’ve talked to them, just barely, neighborly things, like we’ll say hi to them when they walk out,” Hutton said.
Guevara called the police with a noise complaint several years ago, but she hasn’t had any conflicts with student residents since then.
“We respect each other. When I (tell) them, keep it quiet, we need to sleep, they just do it,” said Guevara, who often sees students trekking up the street in bare feet after a night of partying.
Loud parties seem to have decreased over the years, but Kenan still remembers beer bottles and cans lining the front yards of the neighborhood more than a decade ago.
“When I first moved over here, Friday night was party night, but it’s quieted down,” he said.
“The people who lived here before us were pretty crazy,” Biliris said.
Councilman Wojahn disagrees that the party scene has dried up.
“Although crime is obviously a serious concern, it is always a serious concern. I think the more pervasive issue in Crystal Springs is student partying,” Wojahn said.
However, Prince George’s County Police reports show that noise complaints have declined from 29 in 2008, to six in 2012. There have been nine reported assaults in the neighborhood in the past five years.
Councilwoman Denise Mitchell, who represents the Crystal Springs neighborhood in District 4, is not inclined to attribute the neighborhood’s issues to student residents. She said the “unusual” crime was both tragic and “very unfortunate,” but residents’ concerns do not warrant any additional city resources.
“Representing the area, I have not heard of any concerns out of the extreme ordinary that would make us want to put any other type of additional resources into the community,” she said.
For 23-year-old Jennifer Yu, who recently returned to her childhood home on 35th Avenue, the neighborhood has changed. “It’s quiet, before it was more,” she paused, “entertainment.”
The perceived difference in quality of life and safety can be attributed to the citywide initiative to increase police patrols and the awareness of crime rate, but also resident turnover, Wojahn said.
“The neighborhood is always changing,” Kenan said. “People come and go.”
By KAYLA FARIA, LAUREN KIRKWOOD and ANAMIKA ROY