Youth who fled to Israel leaves behind puzzled community
Oct. 04, 1997
ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ Any other autumn, Samuel Sheinbein and his family would have been among the congregants who filled a two-story brick Orthodox synagogue in suburban Washington for the celebration of the Jewish high holy days.
But this year, as families gathered to observe Rosh Hashanah at the Sephardic temple, the 17-year-old remained in custody in Israel, where authorities are reviewing a decision to put him on trial there instead of sending him back to be prosecuted for a gruesome killing
Friends and neighbors wonder how a boy they describe as quiet, likeable and normal could have gotten involved in the crime he stands accused of: murdering and dismembering another teen-ager.
``He was a genuinely good person,'' said friend and high school classmate Nicollette Harris. ``He kept to himself, but he was really nice to everyone.''
Police have charged Sheinbein and childhood friend Aaron B. Needle in the death of 19-year-old Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr. A real estate agent showing a house in Sheinbein's neighborhood discovered Tello's burned body, with arms and legs missing, on Sept. 18.
Sheinbein's flight to Israel and his claim of Israeli citizenship have touched off an international incident, with members of Congress threatening to withhold aid to Israel pending Sheinbein's return.
Two prosecutors and two Montgomery County police detectives were sent to Israel on Friday night to discuss Sheinbein's case with Israeli authorities. The youth's lawyers have suggested he may have acted in self-defense.
But Needle's attorney, Michael V. Statham, said his client will not make that his defense. ``We are repulsed at the idea that Tello got what he deserved for whatever his background was,'' he said.
The Sheinbeins' neighbors say reports of the killing do not mesh with the boy they knew.
``He treated me with wonderful respect,'' said neighbor Freyda Schwartz, who has lived on the same tree-lined street as Sheinbein since he was born.
Schwartz said she had a ``grandmotherly'' relationship with Samuel: He shoveled her walk and brought in her mail when it snowed, mowed her lawn and alerted her to falling trees in her back yard.
``I am still overwrought with pain. I can't explain it, but I feel we had this connection,'' Schwartz said.
Others depict a regular teen-ager. He fiddled with his car in his driveway. He attended John F. Kennedy High School, where he took honors classes including advanced placement European history.
This summer, he worked part-time at a supermarket, toting bags to customers' cars.
``He seemed like a cute, sweet young kid,'' said co-worker May Ostrow. ``He was more friendly than most.''
Sheinbein's father, Sol, a patent attorney, was born in British-ruled Palestine in 1944 and emigrated to the United States as a child. Friends say his mother, Victoria, was from Morocco.
The Sheinbein family belongs to the Magen David Sephardic Congregation, a synagogue in this Maryland suburb.
But there may have been another side to the teen-ager who kept to himself. Acquaintances say they had heard rumors of problems and even of a stint in a disciplinary program.
One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said she recently spoke to Sheinbein's mother, who expressed relief that her son was getting back on track. The neighbor said the Sheinbeins disapproved of their son's friendship with Needle.
Sheinbein and Needle, who is being held here without bail, were old friends from their days as students at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Needle suffered from attention deficit disorder, according to his lawyer.
Sheinbein remains in Israel along with his father and brother, who authorities charged with helping him flee. The family says the older brother was sent to Israel with a ticket to bring Samuel back. Samuel wound up briefly in a psychiatric hospital after taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
Whether he is returned to Rockville or stays in Israel to face justice, the road ahead for Sheinbein will be a difficult one.
``I called his mother and cried mother to mother,'' said Freyda Schwartz. ``One doesn't raise children and expect this kind of outburst without warning. I just want people to know he's not a monster.''