It took police nearly 14 months to locate the Acura — evidence authorities said helped lead them to Ward’s skeletal remains on December 2, 2021. On Monday, DC police arrested a man they said they first questioned early in their investigation.
Brandon Nguyen, 24, of Laurel, Md., was charged with second-degree murder and arrested by a judge Monday. His attorney, Mary Paloger, declined to comment on the case. Nguyen told police he shot Ward in self-defense, according to the arrest affidavit filed with DC Supreme Court.
For Ward’s family, the protracted search for the teenager when he went missing, combined with the protracted search for his alleged killer after his body was found, was agony. The family had to endure false leads and false sightings, including one of the Police are investigating a $7,000 ransom demand for his safe return.
Her ordeal ended with the realization of her worst fears.
“For me, it was really a lot of pain,” said the victim’s father, Jonathan Ward Sr., a 53-year-old grocer who grew up in the district and has lived in Petworth for 15 years. He said his son is a junior at Luke C. Moore Opportunity Academy, was the middle of eight children, played the drums in church and had an interest in fashion design.
“Some days I just cry,” said the elder Ward.
The shooting on Allison Street, on the edge of Rock Creek Cemetery, occurred on the afternoon of September 29, 2020, scattering bystanders who took cover behind parked cars. Police reported finding broken glass on a curb that appeared to have come from a car window. People heard tires squeal and told police they saw a dark-colored vehicle, possibly a black Acura, “separating”.
Police said they had not found a victim or evidence anyone had been shot, although one person told them “his husband” does not answer calls and could not be located, according to an affidavit filed in court .
The next day, Brian Ward’s family reported him missing.
In the affidavit filed in court, police offered a detailed account of their case and their evidence. Police said Brian Ward’s father found a number on his son’s social media, which police traced back to Nguyen. Detectives questioned Nguyen at his home in Laurel and said in the affidavit that he denied owning a black Acura. Nguyen said he called Brian Ward back from social media but never met him, according to police.
In November 2021, police said they learned Nguyen’s father owned a black 2013 Acura and sold it around October 5, 2020, days after Brian Ward is gone. Police found the new owner and searched the vehicle.
Police said in the affidavit that “the carpet under and behind the passenger seat had obvious discoloration, as if the carpet had been cleaned or bleached.” Police reported finding suspected bloodstains and other stains under a rear passenger seat. Police also said a rear quarter window appeared to have been replaced.
The affidavit states that police returned to Nguyen’s home in Maryland and questioned his father. The court document said the father gave “incomplete testimony” but told police as much He had sold the car and his son told him he was robbed during a marijuana deal. Attempts to reach Nguyen’s father, who was not named in the court filings, were unsuccessful.
The detectives then returned to Nguyen, who now lives with his grandfather in California. Police said this time Nguyen told them he and Brian Ward had an argument in the black Acura over whether to hand over the money or the marijuana first, the affidavit said.
“Then the deceased drew a gray and black gun and announced a robbery,” police summarized Nguyen’s account in the affidavit. Police said Nguyen told detectives that he and Brian Ward fought over the gun and that Nguyen gained control of the gun. According to the affidavit, Nguyen said Brian Ward pulled a knife and attacked him again.
“Nguyen admitted he fired the gun and defended himself,” police said in the affidavit, adding that the defendant said he drove away because Brian Ward’s friends were stalking him and he was afraid of using drugs to get caught.
Police said Nguyen directed them to a forest on a remote part of Contee Road in the Laurel area, near where he lived. On December 2, 2021, police said they found Ward’s skeletal remains. Police said the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds. No gun or knife was found, but police said in the affidavit they found a picture of Brian Ward with a gray pistol on social media, apparently taken days before he disappeared.
Jonathan Ward cast doubt on the statement Nguyen made to police and said his son was not known to have a knife. “If he could have gotten the gun away, why would he still have shot him?” Ward said. “If it was self-defense, why did he have to run away? Why did he have to dispose of his body? Why did someone track him down? Why did he sell the car?”
“Everything that’s happened doesn’t suggest it was self-defense,” Jonathan Ward said.
The elder Ward said his son was active in the family church and paid close attention to young parishioners with disabilities. “He was like a big brother,” the father said, adding his son had never had any problems with the police before and had been respectful at home.
Jonathan Ward said his family, including his 27-year-old wife, survived. But he said he feels overwhelmed at times and fears he may one day “drop dead of grief”.