WASHINGTON (CNN) — One week after a prominent Washington couple, their son and housekeeper were found dead in a charred mansion, authorities arrested a suspect in the killings after tracking him from New York back to the nation’s capital.
Having “barely missed” suspect Daron Dylon Wint, 34, on Wednesday night in New York, according to Cmdr. Robert Fernandez with the U.S. Marshals Service, authorities remained on his trail, taking him into custody late Thursday in northeast Washington.
Federal and local law enforcement surrounded the Chevy Cruze that Wint was riding in the back of as well as a small box truck traveling with him. His arrest was about five miles from a Howard Johnson hotel in College Park, Maryland, where authorities had spotted Wint leaving just as they arrived earlier Thursday.
Sources told CNN on Friday that law enforcement officers found $10,000 in cash when they arrested Wint.
In addition to Wint, authorities arrested three other males and two females in the car and the truck, according to Fernandez.
It was not clear what connection, if any, these five have to do with the deaths of Savvas and Amy Savopoulos, their son, Philip, and their housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa.
Both families breathed a little easier Friday knowing that a suspect is in custody.
“While it does not abate our pain, we hope that it begins to restore a sense of calm and security to our neighborhood and to our city,” the Savopoulos family said in a statement.
Signs of trouble before fire
The May 14 fire of the $4.5 million mansion in one of Washington’s toniest neighborhoods was a story in itself.
But soon it became evident that the blaze wasn’t the full story.
It’s believed that all four victims died before the mansion was set on fire, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
The victims were bound with duct tape, and they suffered from blunt force trauma, the source said. There were signs that Philip, the 10-year-old son, had been stabbed and tortured, according to the source.
Figueroa’s husband, Bernardo Alfaro, raised the prospect the victims’ torment started a day earlier — telling CNN affiliate WJLA-TV that his wife didn’t come home the night of May 13.
Alfaro knocked on the mansion’s door the next morning, noting that Savvas Savopoulos’ blue Porsche was parked on the street. He knew something was wrong, according to WJLA. He suddenly got a phone call from Savopoulos telling him Figueroa was at the hospital with Amy Savopoulos, who wasn’t feeling well.
“I started thinking, ‘Why? She doesn’t drive. She doesn’t speak very good English,’ ” Alfaro said.
A second housekeeper, Nelitza Gutierrez, also received a text message from Amy Savopoulos hours before the fire began, telling her to stay home. It came a day after Gutierrez got a voice mail from Savvas Savopoulos telling her not to come the following day because his wife was sick.
“Sometimes you never understand why something happens, but I’m lucky I’m still here,” Gutierrez told CNN’s Joe Johns.
Source: ‘Whoever was in the house was looking for money’
What really happened is largely a mystery.
The motive for the killings has not been divulged, but investigators are considering that money may have been a prime factor.
“Whoever was in the house was looking for money,” said the source familiar with the investigation.
According to The Washington Post, as the episode unfolded inside, one of Savopoulos’ employees came to the home and dropped off $40,000.
A separate law enforcement source disclosed the suspect or suspects made off with $40,000. The money had been earmarked for a martial arts studio that Savvas Savopoulos was opening up in Chantilly, Virginia. Savopoulos was a martial arts enthusiast, according to online posts, and Wint once worked for American Iron Works.
DNA on pizza crust
Investigators identified Wint as a suspect in an unusual way.
On May 14, a Dominos deliveryman brought two pizzas to the Washington home with four victims held hostage inside, said the source familiar with the investigation.
No one came out to get the pizzas, but cash was stashed in an envelope and placed on the mansion’s porch, according to police.
Investigators traced Wint to the scene after finding his DNA on the crust of pizza.
Ex-lawyer calls Wint ‘kind, gentle, nonaggressive’
An attorney who represented Wint in six earlier cases — none of which, he says, ended in guilty verdicts — said he believes authorities have “the wrong guy.”
Even if his DNA was found on pizza crust, it doesn’t mean Wint went inside the Savopoulos mansion, much less bound and killed anyone, attorney Robin Ficker told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday.
A video released by Washington police of a man outside the mansion didn’t show any identifying facial features, the attorney added.
“I know him to be a kind, gentle, nonaggressive person; (he is) someone you wouldn’t mind your grandmother going to lunch with,” the Maryland lawyer said. “… It’s a rush to judgment. There’s a presumption of innocence, which is not being mentioned by police.”
According to court records, Wint has faced multiple charges over the years, including theft, assault and a sexual offense. He was cleared on some of them, but he has three assault convictions in New York.
He attended Marine Corps recruit training in 2001 but left before completing the camp. It was not clear why.
A neighbor of Wint’s parents expressed sympathy for them.
“I feel very sad for them, for the pain they’re going through, which is not their fault,” Devera Zianal said. “Whatever happened, if he is guilty, he had choices. I know he was not raised this way.”