The mother of slain University of Maryland student Justin DeSha-Overcash says she's on a mission to prove that her son's short life was not defined by drugs. "My son lived with honor and integrity, and I want his honor restored," said Karen DeSha, who staged a quiet protest Friday inside the Prince George's County Police Department to display her displeasure at authorities suggesting her son's marijuana use led to his slaying. Those who knew DeSha-Overcash, 21, who was shot and killed earlier this month in his College Park residence, have been upset over headlines suggesting he was a drug dealer.
Police said they found enough pot in his room -- as well as a digital scale and packaging materials -- to believe he was distributing it.
DeSha says her goal is to have the police department acknowledge that the astronomy major lived "an honorable life."
The son she said she knew was not a drug dealer, but a lover of astronomy and a brilliant physicist who would call home to chat with his mom about his grades. He was well-liked, she said, pointing out the number and diversity of people who attended the on-campus memorial service held for him on Thursday.
But DeSha didn't dispute that her son may have smoked marijuana. "I'm not going to tell you my son was perfect."
DeSha spent all Friday inside the police station by herself, sitting on a lawn chair with a cooler of drinks. She brought along several dozen testimonials from friends and family members vouching for her son's character, with some disputing the notion that he ever sold drugs. At the end of her daylong protest, DeSha said police promised to sit-down with her on Monday to discuss the press coverage of the case. "I was there for the long haul, and I think they realized that," she said.
"It is never the intent of the police department to embarrass or tarnish the honor or reputation of a crime victim," said Maj. Andy Ellis, a police spokesman, who also pointed out that officers never used the words "drug dealer" to describe DeSha-Overcash, though some media outlets did.
But Ellis strongly defended the department's release of information indicating that marijuana and packaging materials were found in DeSha-Overcash's room. "In any serious crime, the police department has a duty to inform the public so that residents can take measures to ensure their own safety," he said.
Ellis said the department's "focus remains on identifying and apprehending those who commit these violent acts." No suspects have been arrested yet, though authorities are looking for a 6-foot black male with a thin build, in his late teens or early 20s. Police say he may have a facial injury, as he was hit in the face with a glass jar during the home invasion.
The University of Maryland presented DeSha-Overcash's family with an astronomy degree in his name on Thursday, said Dave Ottalini, a spokesman for the University of Maryland.