Ronnie L. White lived a life typical of many troubled young men.
He was first arrested at 14 for stealing a car and dropped out of high school not long after. By the time he was found dead in his maximum-security jail cell last week, the 19-year-old had amassed arrests on a number of charges, including drug possession, theft, assault and armed robbery.
The violent end to a somewhat turbulent life has spawned a federal civil rights investigation and discussion about crime and punishment. Known in life to his family, friends and the law, White has become famous since dying of asphyxiation in the Prince George's County Detention Center two days after he was charged in the slaying of county police Cpl. Richard S. Findley.
As relatives and friends of Findley mourn him, White's loved ones are struggling to cope with emerging details about his last hours. They are also mindful of how he is being remembered: as the man who allegedly took the life of a police officer.
"I don't want society to look down on Ronnie, because he was a good person," said Cheryl Gray, a family friend. "He might have chosen the wrong people to hang around, but that's how life is for these young men. His death is a tragedy, too."
At a news conference called last week by the Prince George's NAACP, Maryland Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's) urged residents to remember that two families are suffering.
"We cannot forget that a hero was killed in the line of duty, leaving behind a grieving wife and children," Muse said. "We have the murder of suspect Ronnie White, who, too, has a grieving family and at the very least . . . should have been afforded due process. Two wrongs do not make a right."
Interviews and court records show that White, of Laurel, never found his way after first running afoul of the law. At the time of his death, he had never worked full time. He listed his mother's address as his own, although he had recently moved to an apartment in the complex where Findley was killed, acquaintances said.
White was born in the District to Angie White and did not spend much time with his father. A cousin, Charleane Brown, 31, said his mother spoiled the boy and he, in turn, pampered her as he grew up.
"He was always giving his mother gifts," Brown said. "For Mother's Day, he would give her rings, bags, cards." Angie White later expanded her family, having three more sons with Lonnie Gray, who took White under his wing.
"Lonnie brought Ronnie out to Laurel so he could have a better atmosphere and a better life," said Cheryl Gray, his sister.
Valerie Ladsen of Northeast Washington, a friend and co-worker of Lonnie Gray's, said White often went to work with him when he was younger. Well-mannered, "he spoke only when he was spoken to," she said, although he became withdrawn as a teenager.