On September 10, 2017, Askia Khafra died in a deadly fire that exposed the wealthy stock trader, Daniel Beckwitt’s mysterious campaign to build an underground bunker for protection from a nuclear attack. He made several elaborate steps to conceal the network of tunnels beneath his house in the Washington D.C. suburb that even his neighbors knew nothing about the tunnels, according to ABC News.
Exactly a year ago, Daniel Beckwitt’s curious tunnels led to the death of Askia Khafra, the young man helping him dig. The screams of Beckwitt alarmed his neighbors as they witnessed smoke pouring from the house where the 21-year-old ultimately passed away that afternoon.
Prosecutors in Maryland portray the 27-year-old millionaire as a paranoid computer hacker who recklessly endangered Khafra’s life. In May, prosecutors secured Beckwitt’s indictment on charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Beckwitt’s lawyer believes Khafra’s death is a tragic accident, not a crime. Defense attorney Robert Bonsib agrees, saying Beckwitt is an “unusual guy” but did attempt to rescue Khafra, even if it meant risking his own life.
“I always feared something dangerous would happen to him,” the elder Khafra said. The first anniversary of Askia Khafra’s death is a day that his parents were dreading.
In a recent interview at their Silver Spring, Maryland home, Dia Khafra said he and his wife Claudia, tried to convince Askia to avoid Beckwitt’s tunnels. His parents were fearful and skeptical of Beckwitt’s ideas and hoped Askia would stay away at all costs.
Their son originally met Beckwitt online and agreed to assist him in digging tunnels in exchange for Beckwitt’s investments in an internet company Askia was launching.
Following his May arrest, Beckwitt was released on bond while he awaits his April 2019 trial. Investigators discovered Khafra’s charred body in the basement of Beckwitt’s Bethesda home. There was a hole in the concrete basement floor that led to a shaft which dropped down 20 feet into tunnels. The tunnels also branched out and were roughly 200 feet in length.
Beckwitt told investigators how he tried to preserve his project’s secrecy, according to a police report. Beckwitt claimed he would rent a car and pick Khafra up to drive him to Manassas, Virginia. While he drove, Khafra was required to wear “blackout glasses” before riding around for about an hour. He also used internet “spoofing” to make it appear Khafra was in Virginia, according to Montgomery County prosecutor Douglas Wink.
“These are the lengths the defendant went through in order to hide the truth from Askia Khafra as to where he was and to maintain the secrecy of these tunnels,” Wink said during a May 31 hearing.
Hours before the fire took place, Khafra texted Beckwitt to warn him it smelled of fire smoke but he ignored all “obvious signs” of danger. Bonsib mentioned Khafra kept coming back, he clearly enjoyed it. He said Khafra continuously posted photos of himself in the tunnels on social media, suggesting he was proud of the work he did. “I think Askia was very trusting,” he said. “He believed in the guy.”
County officials ultimately sued Beckwitt over his property’s condition, calling it unsafe and a “public nuisance.” Wooden boards are now displayed over the doors and windows of the house, restricting anyone from entering. There is also a chain-link fence and police tape that surround the home.