Chester County authorities said Sunday morning they have charged a suspect in the “savage and senseless” road-rage shooting death of 18-year-old Bianca Roberson.
District Attorney Tom Hogan said 28-year-old David Desper of Trainer, Delaware County, turned himself in about 2 a.m. Sunday in the killing of the young woman — who had just shopped with her mother and grandmother for items to bring with her to her freshman year in college.
“This is the story of a savage and senseless murder,” said Hogan.
The motive was as trivial as it gets, he said: “Because somebody didn’t want to give way. Because somebody didn’t want to merge into a lane of traffic.”
He said Desper, on the Route 100 bypass at the same time as Roberson, “jockeyed for position and wasn’t happy. So he pulled out a gun and shot Bianca in the head.”
A bullet fired from the suspect’s truck struck Roberson in the left side of her head, officials said. Her car, a green Chevrolet Malibu, ran off the bypass and crashed.
Hogan said ballistics tests revealed the fatal bullet was fired by a .40-caliber Smith Wesson, which police reported finding in a bedroom at Desper’s house.
The red Chevy pickup truck owned by Desper and seized by police has a dent in the side that matches what police saw on surveillance video, authorities said.
Desper’s attorney, Dan McGarrigle, confirmed that Desper had surrendered to police but would not say why he wanted to turn himself in or whether he had given a statement to authorities.
Hogan said the arrest came amid intense police investigative work, tracking thousands of tips that poured into the West Goshen Police Department after Roberson was killed at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Desper was arraigned early Sunday on counts of first- and third-degree murder, possession of an instrument of crime, and reckless endangerment, Hogan said. He was sent to Chester County Prison without bail.
Hogan said there was “no indication that we’re aware of that this is a race crime or a hate crime.”
“This appears to be a savage, senseless and brutal act from one human being to another human being,” he said.
The suspect’s appearance – 6-feet 2-inches tall, weighing 250 pounds, with dark brown hair, a beard and a mustache – contradicted information given by witnesses for a composite sketch of a man of medium build with blond or light brown hair and no facial hair. Authorities did not immediately explain the difference.
Roberson’s parents, Rodney and Michelle Roberson, attended the arrest announcement at the West Goshen police station but did not speak.
Around 11:15 a.m., two cars of Roberson family and friends pulled up to their brick West Chester townhouse.
“We’re here for you,” a man told Bianca’s parents as he got out of the car.
A West Goshen police officer arrived home with the family. As the family walked inside, quickly and somberly, the officer told a reporter that the Robersons wanted privacy at this time and did not want to speak to any more media.
On Sunday afternoon, two young boys rode bikes up and down Anderson Avenue in Trainer, doing wheelies in front of the white, single-story home where Desper lived.
The grass was overgrown; weeds grew around the mailbox. A silver Camaro was parked in the driveway of the house, which was across the street from a playground.
Knocks at the door went unanswered. Neighbors in nearby houses said they did not know Desper and wouldn’t recognize him. A few did not even know their neighbor had been arrested in the murder.
“That’s news to me,” said Jeffrey Smith, 37, who lives across the street. He said he had never interacted with Desper.
Mark Halliday, 38, who lives two doors down, said he believed two or three men moved into that house about two years ago. Construction noises could be heard from the house at night, Halliday said, which made him think the men were fixing up the property.
But Halliday said the men kept to themselves. He, too, said he never interacted with Desper.
Driving by, neighbor Fred Kinsler, 45, said he had known Desper as a kid. Kinsler knew Desper drove a red truck but said he “didn’t put two and two together” until he heard of the arrest.
“He was a good kid,” Kinsler said. “It’s a shame.”
Hogan said investigators had interviewed witnesses and tipsters who had called in about a suspect, driving a faded red pickup, who shot and killed Roberson.
West Goshen Township Police Department Facebook page earlier posted this photo of the Chevrolet truck involved.
“That’s the same merge people in Southeastern Pennsylvania make thousands of times per day,” Hogan said.
Around 11 a.m. Saturday, the police department parking lot was nearly empty. The TV cameras and satellite trucks that had camped out there Friday afternoon were gone. Inside the station, dispatchers were busy at work. They answered phone call after phone call with “Do you have a tip for us?” Later in the day, police released new pictures and a video of the truck.
Chief Joseph Gleason had said Friday that tips had come in from all corners of the country, as far away as Texas and California.
“We’re obviously looking for someone who not only fits the description, but someone who is not where they should be,” Hogan said. “Someone who should be at work and didn’t show up, someone who is missing appointments because they are hiding out.”
Hogan said investigators believe the driver may be from the area — “because of where they were driving and that time of day, and where we could track the truck going.”
“It’s someone who is traveling a normal, coming-back-from-work route during rush hour,” he said. He said the interaction on the highway that ended in Roberson’s death — two cars trying to merge from two lanes into one — “is the same interaction that happens hundreds of thousands of times every day in the area.”
Investigators collected video from PennDot cameras and businesses along the highway, he said, but wouldn’t say where police had tracked the truck’s route. Hogan said the man had shot at Roberson as he was moving; he would not say how many shots had been fired.
Witnesses had described the shooter as a white man of medium build with blond or light brown hair, in his mid-20s to early 30s, police said. The composite sketch of the suspect was widely distributed.
The pickup appeared to have tinted back windows, Michael Noone, the first assistant district attorney, said Friday.
Rodney Roberson said his daughter, a recent graduate of Bayard Rustin High School in West Chester, was on her way home from shopping for school supplies and groceries when she was killed.
Her father said she was with her mother and grandmother, shopping at Main Street at Exton, an upscale town center. She left Main Street alone, planning to drop off her purchases at home before meeting up with friends.
The route was simple: Hop on Route 100, merge onto 202, make two quick turns, and she’d be there. With light traffic, it would take little more than five minutes from the time she left the shopping venue to the time she was killed on the bypass.
Shortly before Bianca approached the merge, police said her vehicle and the pickup truck began jockeying for position. PennDot images show that the truck was in the left lane, Roberson in the right. Signs on the side of the highway warn drivers that the left lane ends.
Police said earlier they believe the shooting happened in a quarter-mile stretch of highway on which both vehicles were driving 60 m.p.h. (the speed limit there is 55 mph). They said they do not believe there was a confrontation back in Exton or anywhere prior to that quarter-mile area.
Dontae Auburg, the victim’s brother, said he learned of her death in a phone call from his father.
“Everyone is still in a state of disbelief. We wake up as if it’s a bad dream, and it’s not until we see the news that we realize it actually is a reality,” Auburg said. His father’s voice was cracking when he told Auburg that his youngest sister had died in a car crash. The family did not learn until Thursday night that she had been shot until police announced that she had died from a single shot to the head, he said.
“Her mom just yelled. My dad started to cry more,” Auburg said. “Everyone was shocked — because a car crash was now a murder.”
Bianca Roberson had planned to attend Jacksonville (Fla.) University in the fall. Officials there said in a statement Friday they were “deeply saddened” to learn of her death. She had planned to major in psychology, the school said.
“We looked forward to warmly greeting her as a member not only of the Class of 2021, but of the entire close-knit JU family. We grieve, too, the loss of the legacy she would undoubtedly left among us,” the school wrote on Facebook.
Officials said they were sending “formal sympathies” to Roberson’s family and “will reach out to the appropriate contacts for information about final arrangements.”
A YouCaring page started by a family friend of Roberson’s had raised more than $25,000 in a day for her family.
Auburg, 32, said his family was reeling. Bianca was beloved, he said. She was an avid basketball player — taller than anyone in the family — and dreamed of being an FBI agent. He remembered clowning around behind their dad’s back with her, making silly faces, and daring each other not to laugh as their father spoke.
Rodney Roberson now cannot look at pictures of Bianca without crying, Auburg said.
“It’s funny they say that it was a bit of road rage, because my sister — we never saw her get angry. We never saw her get mad, or any type of rage in her, at all,” he said. “Things that were down, or sad, or things that make someone angry — Bianca didn’t have any energy for it.”
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