A 17-year-old boy who graduated from Glenelg High School last month was found dead early yesterday leaning against a tree near Triadelphia Reservoir -- the victim of an suspected heroin overdose, police said.
Friends and neighbors of Damien Massella of the 3200 block of Roscommon Drive in Glenelg said they were shocked by his death.
Several remembered a "guy who always liked having fun."
"He was just a great friend," said Jason Krepner, 17, also a Glenelg graduate. "He was like a jokester. He was really excited about graduating."
Jason said Damien loved playing table tennis and paintball and hoped to attend a culinary college in the fall.
Damien was seen slumped against a tree about 12: 30 a.m. by two people walking along a path near a boat dock off Green Bridge Road in Dayton, police said.
After passing him once, the couple returned several minutes later, noticed the youth had not moved and called authorities, said Morris Carroll, a county police spokesman.
Police arrived at a concrete boat ramp surrounded by lush trees, where they found Damien.
A small, empty plastic bag was recovered next to his body, and a hypodermic needle was found in a pocket, police said.
Officers saw a puncture wound in Damien's left arm, police said.
The teen-ager's car was parked nearby, Carroll said.
Although results of an autopsy and other tests are pending, police suspect a heroin overdose.
The youth's father, Ralph Massella, declined to comment.
Friends said the teen-ager was turning his life around after a battle with addictions. Jason, who plans to join the Marine Corps, said Damien had been in a drug detoxification program for several months.
"I don't know why he did it," Jason said. "He hasn't touched anything" since entering the drug-use center.
Lt. Tim Branning, who heads the police vice and narcotics unit, said Damien's death is evidence of heroin's spread to the suburbs.
For months, police have been conducting raids and warning residents about the powerful drug, which is being sold pure enough to sniff and is abundant on Baltimore streets.
Police noted a January overdose by a Howard County teacher, "reverse stings" in Baltimore that have yielded arrests of Howard County residents, an increase in heroin distribution charges in Howard County and a rise in crimes committed by heroin addicts to finance their habit as signs of the presence of the narcotic.
Despite the publicity surrounding those incidents, police have had difficulty getting their message across.
More reporters than residents attended a recent town meeting in Columbia about heroin.
"This is the first [drug] death of a minor" in Howard County in quite a while, Branning said of the youth's death. "We just hope this is not the beginning of more to follow."
In Damien's Glenelg neighborhood of large homes, the teen-ager's death was greeted by surprise yesterday afternoon.
Neighbor Robert Gladden, 41, had just finished cutting the Massella family's lawn as a favor.
"I'm not naive to think it can't happen here," Gladden said. "But do I expect it? No, I don't. As a parent, you have to try to do what you can. I know [Damien's parents] did."
Pub Date: 6/19/98