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After first homicide in decades, Berwyn Heights residents still feel safe


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Published on: Friday, October 12, 2012

By Annika McGinnis

Two months after a rare domestic abuse-related murder in Berwyn Heights, residents and police say the crime was isolated and the neighborhood is still safe.

There was ongoing domestic abuse between Amber Danielle Schinault, 36, of the 8600 block of 57th Avenue in Berwyn Heights, and her ex-boyfriend, Andrew Heinz Kugler, 36, of the 4000 block of Hillwood Court in Beltsville. Schinault had filed a restraining order against Kugler, said Col. Ken Antolik, Berwyn Heights police chief. At 3:30 p.m. July 22, police discovered Schinault dead in her basement with wounds to her neck, Antolik said. “It was a very gruesome scene,” Antolik said. “It did not look like an accident.”

It was the first homicide in Berwyn Heights in more than two decades. But despite initial shock, neighborhood residents say they still feel safe living and working in the town. 

In the late afternoon, residents walk their dogs and ride bicycles along the quiet, tree-lined 57th Avenue. Flower gardens and fall wreaths decorate the modestly sized homes.

 “This is a great neighborhood,” said Chris Emmell, 58, a Berwyn Heights resident of more than 30 years who lives across the street from Schinault’s former residence. “This was a highly unusual case; it was a unique situation.”

Emmell added the Berwyn Heights Police Department makes her feel good about the town’s safety.

According to Antolik, the incident was isolated and an “open and close case.” If it hadn’t been a one-time incident between two people with a history of domestic abuse, police would have shut the town down and taken other protective measures, Antolik said.

Emmell said Schinault’s house was a rental home with a long history of problematic renters, such as partying college students.

“It just seems like when you get more transient people, you have more problems,” she said. “Then this couple moved in and we said, ‘oh, good!’ But we never really saw them come out.”

Antolik said Kugler is suspected to have at some time, probably in the early morning of July 22 or late the night before, have come to the house when Schinault was asleep and killed her with an edge weapon.

The next morning, county police officers found Kugler in College Park after a fast car chase, Antolik said. Kugler had barricaded himself and attempted to cut his wrists, Antolik said.

On Aug. 16, Kugler was indicted on charges of first-degree murder and violation of a protective order, according to county circuit court records. He is being held without bond at a Prince George’s County correctional facility, pending his trial, said Lt. William Rayle, a Prince George’s County homicide commander. According to the circuit court records, Kugler’s trial must occur sometime on or before Feb. 25.  

Rayle said Prince George’s County Police Department takes domestic violence “very seriously” based on his 18 years of experience working for the department.

“We have policies and procedures police follow with domestic incidents,” Rayle said. “This is something that’s evolved over time, and I know the system is a whole lot better than it was 100 years ago.”

Kugler’s attorney, John McKenna of Brennan Sullivan & McKenna LLP, Greenbelt, did not respond to phone calls or emails for comment.

Kiara Gonzalez, 27, who has worked down the street from Schinault’s former home for six months, said she still feels safe in Berwyn Heights. She said the neighborhood is much safer than others where she has worked.

The homicide “was just unexpected,” Gonzalez said. “I think it did shake some of the neighbors, though. It shows that stuff can still happen in safe neighborhoods.”

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