LANDOVER, Md. - A recent murder in Prince George’s County has left investigators with a mystery to solve: Who killed Tae Bennett, and why?
Bennett, 31, was a man renowned for his ability to work with animals. Detectives know there were witnesses to his murder on April 4, but so far no one has admitted being there.
Bennett had only worked at the Humane Rescue Alliance for seven years when someone took his life. But in that time, he had become a legend.
"He was magical with the animals,” said Lisa LaFontaine, who is President and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance. “You're born with what he had. You can't teach what he had.”
The story everyone loves to tell is the day Bennett tamed a cockatoo.
"One of the things we remember about him is the time no one could catch a bird who escaped, and he just walked in the room and the bird just landed on his head,” LaFontaine remembered. “The animals know a good person. The animals know a real person.”
LaFontaine hired Bennett herself, and his loss is something she’s felt deeply.
"Every organization like ours needs a buoyant, positive person who can rally us all and bring us up, and keep a perspective on why we're here and know when to put an arm around somebody and when to crack a joke -- and Tae was our person,” she said.
It’s been more than three months since the staff at the Alliance’s shelter on New York Avenue last saw Bennett’s smiling face. Instead of working with the rescue dogs on April 4, he was found shot to death in the driveway of his home on East Lombard Street in Landover.
Prince George’s County police got a call to check on his welfare.
"I believe someone going to work noticed Mr. Bennett lying in the driveway, thought he needed medical attention and called the police," explained Lt. James McCreary with the Prince George’s County Police Department.
It was after 5 a.m. when they received that call. Detectives now think Bennett may have been lying there for an hour or more. Witnesses told police they had heard an argument, but investigators don’t have a lot of information about what happened that night.
Some people who live in the neighborhood remembered hearing a gunshot overnight, but no one called the police.
"They could kind of hear people outside laughing and joking," McCreary said. "We don't know when the conversation turned hostile, but it was very brief. They heard elevated voices, people yelling. Then they heard the single gunshot, they heard people scream -- and they heard the sounds of engines revving and people leaving the area."
McCreary said Bennett grew up in the neighborhood and had been sitting with friends in front of the house when the argument broke out. So far, no one who was with Bennett that night has come forward to tell police they were there.
"He had such a passion for animals and a passion for animal rescue, and he dedicated his life to that. We are hoping that once people hear that, they will be inspired and come forward,” McCreary said.
Bennett's ability to calm animals left his colleagues in awe, and his death has left a huge void. June 8 was his birthday—also known as Tae Day—and his colleagues dedicated a dog park in his honor to remember him.
When he was a boy, Bennett’s mom said he would only eat part of his dinner, and then he would take the rest outside.
"It took us about a month or two to really realize he was actually giving the food to the dogs," his mom, Rebecca Lipscombe told FOX 5’s Paul Wagner from her home in South Carolina.
"I just can't accept that someone shot him like that -- left him there, and don't nobody know nothing,” she said.
Now, all anyone who knew him has left is memories. His colleagues made a book for his children, containing all of their favorite stories about their time working with him — hoping it will help them keep his memory alive.
“The animals of D.C. -- especially at 1201 New York Avenue -- were enormously lucky to have you on their side. The hole you left in our HRA family will likely never be entirely filled. Rest easy, Tae. We really, really miss you,” one message in the book reads.
From what we’ve learned about Tae Bennett, that says it all.