Murdered student had ties to Salisbury

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2011

By Shelley Smith
Justin DeSha-Overcash knew he wanted to be a physicist when he was a 7-year-old student at Overton Elementary.
“And he never changed his mind,” said Karen DeSha, Justin’s mother.
A physics and astronomy major with a minor in geophysics and math, Overcash was a senior at the University of Maryland, getting ready to begin his last semester as an undergrad student.
Several times a month for the past three years, he operated the telescope at the observatory on campus during the public nights, pointing out different stars and constellations. He was a teacher’s assistant (T.A.) in the physics department — asked to help out as early as his second year of college — and he also tutored student athletes.
Tuesday morning at 11:12, he posted a link to an upcoming band’s performance on his Facebook account, something he updated nearly every day, and 15 minutes later, he was dead.
Overcash was shot in his College Park, Md., home. Family members say someone approached him outside, held a gun to his back, and forced him inside. He was shot at least once, and there was only one witness, his family said.
The Prince George’s County Police Department reported to media at the scene Tuesday afternoon that Overcash, who lived at the home with at least two other males, may have been selling drugs, and that marijuana, digital scales and drug packaging materials were found in the shared home.
Overcash’s friends and family are outraged, saying the police profiled him as a criminal, and not the victim.
“That is one of the most infuriating and disgusting things with this whole situation — the police have characterized him as a drug dealer,” said Elizabeth Warner, who is the University of Maryland’s Observatory Coordinator.
Overcash’s mother said she is speaking out to as many media outlets as possible to give her son the justice he deserves.
“They’re trying to kill my son twice,” she said. “They said he got what he deserved because he was dealing drugs. And I’m not standing for that. I’m going to fight for my son’s honor.
“Before I was even told my son was deceased, the Prince George’s County Police told the media (it was) a targeted act based on his lifestyle.
“But my son’s honor will be vindicated.”
• • •
Overcash lived in Salisbury with his father, Randy, and mother when he was a child. He attended Overton Elementary School and Knox Middle School.
He was an only child, and after his eighth grade year, the family moved when his father got a job in Pennsylvania. After he graduated from high school, his parents split.
But he never forgot Salisbury or the people who influenced him, and visited every winter break.
Each winter, he saw his favorite teacher, Knox Middle School science teacher Dionne Gore.
Gore said she couldn’t believe that Overcash was dead.
“This is devastating,” she said.
She called Overcash a “whiz” in school.
“He was funny, bright, smart, sweet, he had such a loving personality,” she said.
Overcash played football, basketball and baseball while at Knox Middle School. He also played trumpet in the band. When he graduated from eighth grade, he got an award for receiving all A’s from elementary school through middle school.
Gore said Overcash always wanted to go to Salisbury High, and he kept in touch with many friends from Salisbury when he moved.
He even traveled from Pennsylvania to Salisbury and took one of his best friends, Monica Wilson, to Salisbury High School’s senior prom.
“I just think he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Gore said.
Elizabeth Warner, who worked alongside Overcash at the university’s observatory, said he was also a student of hers, and was working on an independent study research project at the observatory.
“He would come by between classes and on his way to class, stop by and say, ‘Hi,’ ” she said. “Most students don’t do that, they don’t really interact with teachers. It was neat that he trusted me enough to just be able to come by and say hi and just be cool about it.
“I’m going to miss those visits.”
Warner, a native of South Carolina, said she’ll also miss Overcash’s southern draw.
“It was very comforting at times,” she said. “Justin has a bunch of circles of friends. He was sort of a geek at heart. He liked physics — who likes physics?
“And at the same time, he liked music and liked people.”
• • •
Karen DeSha said Overcash was so well-loved because he was raised to appreciate people.
“He was very compassionate and cared about other people,” she said. “To be smart, he was very social. Even when he went to Knox and Overton, they talked about how comical and smart he was.”
DeSha, like others, believes her son was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Something went wrong (Tuesday),” she said. “He was very well-loved and a wonderful person, and I guess God needed him to do something else.”
DeSha said her son’s favorite places in Salisbury were Bernhardt’s Hardware, Spanky’s Ice Cream, Hap’s Grill and College Bar-B-Que, and said anytime they came back to Salisbury, the trip was a “tour of restaurants.”
“The Spanky’s people knew Justin well,” she said. “They were dear friends.”
Overcash’s dad, Randy, said he was a “Tar Heel at heart — no question about it.”
His ex-girlfriend and best friend, Kara Sarvey, said there wasn’t a day that went by when he didn’t wear Carolina Blue.
“You saw Carolina Blue and you thought ‘Justin,’ ” she said.
She said his bedroom and basement in Pennsylvania were covered in Overcash’s favorite color — Carolina Blue.
“He was very outgoing,” she said, “and wasn’t afraid to talk to people.
“He was respectful, and everyone called him the Southern kid — he had such a Southern accent. He was friends with a lot of different groups of people.”
Randi Leifer, fiance of Randy Overcash, said she had the pleasure of knowing Overcash for the past four years.
“He was the guy that when you had a problem, you wanted him there,” she said. “Justin was resilient — he never lost sight of what was important.
“He’s a huge loss. I’m really devastated. He had the world in front of him.”
• • •
Overcash will be buried in Asheville. Memorial services are being planned in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“To have such a gentle life and for it to end like this is beyond me,” DeSha said.
“I was always amazed that someone so young could be so focused and so purposeful.”
The Prince George’s County Police Department said Wednesday afternoon they were still investigating Overcash’s murder, and a $25,000 reward is being offered to anyone with information.