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Two dead from Aberdeen homeless camp identified

Police say foul play isn't suspected

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

6:50 PM EST, January 24, 2012

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Less than a week before Harford County does its annual count of the homeless, a homeless man and woman found unconscious in a tent in Aberdeen Friday morning have died. A third person was hospitalized.

The two who died have been identified as Tameka R. Hooker, 28, and George W. Woodrow, 32. They were found unresponsive in a tent in a patch of land bordered by westbound Route 22, the Amtrak rail lines and North Deen Park. In a news release Tuesday morning, the Aberdeen Police Department said "the cause of death is still under investigation; however, there was no foul play." According to numerous sources, the two died either from exposure or from carbon monoxide poisoning.

A third person, Herbert Vinson, who reported feeling ill at the scene and was transported to Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, has been treated and released, according to Aberdeen police. Hooker and Woodrow were pronounced dead Friday morning after being found unconscious in an Aberdeen homeless encampment, the city's police department said. The homeless camp had not been there long, according to sources, after it was moved from a more high profile location on Rogers Street near the ramp to Route 22.

The county will do its annual count of homeless people in Harford County Wednesday.

"Local homeless service providers, community volunteers, local police agencies and the Harford County Government" will conduct the count, a county press release said.

The count will, hopefully, provide understanding of the issues that contribute to individual people becoming homeless, the release continued.

It will also give local human services providers information about how to create programs that would ideally eradicate homelessness in the county.

According to the release, Harford has 12 emergency, transitional and permanent supportive shelters, which have 258 beds.

In fiscal year 2011, there were 1,073 homeless people provided with 41,048 nights in a shelter — an average of 38 nights per person.

In the fatal episode in Aberdeen, police reported that patrol officers assisted emergency medical crews at an area off Route 22 and Post Road at 8:30 a.m. Friday

At the scene, crews "found a male and female in a tent in a wooded area near the intersection," according to a police department news release on Friday. Both were unconscious and unresponsive. Another male in that area was also feeling ill.

At that time, the people had not been identified.

The three were taken to Harford Memorial Hospital, where Hooker and Woodrow were pronounced dead.

"Preliminary investigation revealed the three [had] been in the wooded area over night sleeping in a tent," Friday's news release continued.

Vinson had found the two unresponsive when he awoke in the morning and notified authorities.

A caller to The Aegis Friday afternoon said the area where the victims were found, which is near the city's North Deen Park, has been used as a camp by homeless people, including the three victims. The caller, who declined to give his name, said he knew all three either by their first names or nicknames.

Aberdeen police broke up a homeless encampment on a private property along Rogers Street in the downtown area a couple of weeks earlier, according to several sources.

Vigil set for Thursday

Giving Hope Ministries in Aberdeen, which feeds homeless people in the community on a weekly basis, announced that it will hold a candlelight vigil in memory of Hooker and Woodrow 5 p.m. Thursday at 11 Franklin St. in Aberdeen.

Barbara Hawkins, director evangelist with Giving Hope, said the two would "come into eat all the time" with the ministry.

Hawkins' son, Vasie Edwards, said he has known the victims for several years from feeding them every Thursday night. Edwards has also known Vinson since he was a kid, as their families are friends.

While the police had earlier said that Vinson had been released from the hospital, Edwards said he was still at Harford Memorial and would hopefully be released later Tuesday or Wednesday.

"He's still feeling weak, a lot of chest pains," Edwards said of his friend's condition. The two speak a few times a day and Edwards is working to find him a place to stay once he is released from the hospital.

Edwards said he feels "real bad" about what happened to the victims. "I [would] feel bad if that happened to anybody."

"Just from being around them through the week and feeding them every Thursday," he said of the relationship, "it's like a family."

Edwards said he and the ministry is working with the Diamond Club in Aberdeen, as well as the Holiday Inn to donate coats, shoes, socks and toiletries to give out during the vigil — the ministry's usual night for feeding those in need.

He also hopes to get other churches in the area involved so the community is more aware of the homeless problem in Harford County, which goes "deeper than you imagine," Edwards commented. "We need to get this out there."

Homeless in Harford

Elizabeth Hendrix, director of community services for the Harford County government, said the county has a "freezing weather plan" that goes into effect when temperatures reach 32 degrees or below.

In those situations, any homeless person looking for assistance is automatically placed in a shelter or a motel room, if there are no beds available in the shelter. This was the case for Thursday night into Friday.

"It's a shame that this had to happen," Hendrix said about Hooker and Woodrow staying outside overnight.

When asked why people might choose to stay outside rather than seeking shelter, especially when a freezing weather plan is in place, Hendrix said in most cases those people are "selecting not to come in [from] the cold for a variety of issues." This could range from drug addiction to mental illness.

"Typically, those are the two primary reasons," she continued. Hendrix, however, was speaking in generalities and not about the Aberdeen situation or the victims of that incident.