This undated photo released by the Montgomery County Police Department shows Daniel Beckwitt in Maryland. Beckwitt, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the Sept. 10, 2017, after the death of Askia Khafra. (Montgomery County Police Department via AP)
BETHESDA, Md. – The rich stock trader took extensive steps to hide the network of tunnels under his house in Washington, D. C., suburb. Even the young man to help him dig, they knew not where they were.
A year ago, a deadly fire exposed Daniel Beckwitt’s curious campaign to the construction of an underground bunker for the protection of a nuclear attack. Neighbors knew nothing about the tunnels before they heard Beckwitt the screams and saw smoke pouring from the house where the 21-year-old Askia Khafra (ASK-ee-uh-KA-fruh) died in the afternoon.
Maryland prosecutors portray Beckwitt, a 27-year-old millionaire, as a paranoid computer hacker, who recklessly endangered Khafra life. In May, they secured Beckwitt the indictment on charges of second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Beckwitt’s lawyer calls, Khafra’s death a tragic accident, not a crime. Lawyer Robert Bonsib admits Beckwitt is an “unusual man”, but says that his client risked his own life in a failed attempt to rescue Khafra.
Beckwitt was free on bond after his May arrest. His trial is scheduled for April 2019.
Monday marks the anniversary of the Sept. 10, 2017, fire. It is a day that Khafra’s parents are worried.
During a recent interview at their Silver Spring, Maryland, a house, Dia Khafra, 69, said he and his wife, Claudia, tried to convince Askia to stay away from Beckwitt the tunnels. Their son met Beckwitt online and agreed to help him dig the tunnels in exchange for Beckwitt investment in an internet company, Askia was the launch.
“I have always feared something dangerous would happen to him,” the elder Khafra said.
The researchers found the younger Khafra the charred body in the basement of Beckwitt Bethesda ‘ s house. A hole in the concrete basement floor led to a shaft that fell from 20 feet (6 m) in the tunnels which branched out approximately 200 feet (60 m) in length.
The police says Beckwitt told investigators how he tried to preserve the project confidentiality when he brought Khafra. Beckwitt said that he would rent a car, pick-Khafra, and drive him in Manassas, Virginia, where he had the young man not blackout glasses” before you him about an hour. Khafra days spent in a time of work, eat and sleep in the tunnels. He had his cellphone with him, but Beckwitt used internet “spoofing” to make it appear he was in Virginia, according to Montgomery County prosecutor Douglas Wink.
“These are the lengths the suspect went through in order to hide the truth of Askia Khafra where he was and for maintaining the confidentiality of these tunnels,” Wink said at a May 31 hearing.
Beckwitt only lived in “extreme potter terms,” forced the men to navigate through a maze of clutter and waste, Wink said. The tunnels had lights, a ventilation system and a heating system is powered by a “casual daisy chain” power strips that created a risk of fire, the prosecutor said.
Hours before the fire, Khafra sms Beckwitt to warn him of the smoke there is smoke in the tunnel. Beckwitt flipped a switch that turned off the lights in the tunnels, but turned the power back on, after Khafra said that he could not see, Wink said.
Beckwitt ignored “clear signs” of the danger, the prosecutor told a judge.
Wink said Beckwitt had a “paranoid fixation” on a possible nuclear attack from North Korea. Beckwitt attorney compared his client to care for “the days of the Cuban missile crisis.”
Bonsib said Khafra posted pictures of themselves in the tunnels on social media, suggesting he was proud of the work.
“He kept coming back,” Bonsib said.
Beckwitt attorney described him as a successful “day trader” who has made millions trading stocks. Dia Khafra said that his son was under the impression Beckwitt wealth.
“I think Askia was very confident,” he said. “He believed in the man.”
Dia Khafra said he only met Beckwitt once, when he left his son in their home. He seemed to be shy.
“He said that he wants his money out of bitcoins,” Khafra called.
Beckwitt lived with his parents in the Bethesda house, to the university. He is enrolled at the University of Illinois, where the campus police arrested him in 2013 on charges including computer fraud. He was suspected of installing keystroke logging devices on the Urbana school computers. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation, according to online court records.
The conviction will not send Beckwitt away from computers, after he moved back to Maryland. In 2016, he spoke at a hacker convention with the alias “3AlarmLampscooter” and wearing a fire resistant suit and visor that covered his face.
Wink said Beckwitt was, he taught his audience how to make thermite bombs to destroy the computer data “to get away with hacking.”
Bonsib said that his client’s use of a pseudonym and disguised as harmless was a typical example of the “weird things” people do on the internet.
County officials sued Beckwitt about are the property of the state, that it is unsafe and a public nuisance.” Wooden planks, now on the doors and windows of the house, which is surrounded by a chain link fence and police tape.
Meanwhile, Khafra, the parents have not yet touched their son’s bedroom. The urn with his ashes remain in a cardboard box.
“We have not had the courage to open that box,” Dia Khafra said.