A woman was found fatally shot Thursday evening in St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, a man was discovered dead on the grounds nearby and another woman was critically injured by gunfire — turning a quiet, family neighborhood near the historic downtown into a crime scene.
Police and SWAT team members swarmed the 3600 block of Rogers Ave., just up the hill from the historic mill town's Main Street, and blocked off a section of the road after receiving a call about 5:20 p.m. from a custodian at the church, who said he'd found two women in a church office suffering from gunshot wounds.
Inside the church, police found one of the women dead. The other woman, who was in critical condition, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, police said.
After clearing the building, police entered nearby woods and found the body of a man who appeared to have a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A gun was found nearby, police said.
Neither the women nor the man had been identified late Thursday.
When asked whether the shootings might be a murder-suicide, Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said it was too early in the investigation to speculate about a connection between the women and the man.
Police said they do not know whether the women or man worked at or had some other connection with the church. Other than the women, the custodian was the only person at the church when officers responded, police said.
Attempts to reach the church's co-rectors, the Rev. Kirk A. Kubicek and the Rev. Mary-Marguerite Kohn, were unsuccessful Thursday evening.
Nearby residents — blocked for hours from reaching their homes across the street on Bonnybridge Place — described the neighborhood as a quiet place filled with families and small children. A preschool associated with the church shares its address, and the Howard County police headquarters is just a half-mile away.
Steve Fairall, who lives on Main Street in Ellicott City, said he often rides his bike in the neighborhood around the church.
"It's pretty upper-middle-class. It's a nice neighborhood, a lot of families," he said.
When he heard about the shootings, he "just thought it was somebody targeted. I didn't think it was any crazy gunmen running around."
Debbie Rao, 53, a Bonnybridge Place resident, said she was relieved upon hearing that a man had been found dead in the woods — allaying her concerns that a shooter was at large.
"I can sleep peaceful," she said. "We weren't going home until we knew this was all cleared. I just want to know if we were going to be safe. I have grandkids."
Another Bonnybridge Place neighbor, Barbara Holt, 63, has been a member of the church for about six months. She said police had asked her about 5:30 p.m. if she had seen anybody run by.
"[I] would just like to know if it's somebody that I know," she said.
Kevin Lee, a 17-year-old who lives across the street from the church on Bonnybridge Place, observed the police action from a nearby hill.
"I saw SWAT guys going in on a truck," he said. "They were, like, hanging on the sides; 10 to 15 minutes later, they came back out, and six officers went in, people went in with suits."
County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, who represents Ellicott City, noted the rarity of violence in the area.
"Something like this is highly unusual in Ellicott City," she said. "The police chief, I know, is working diligently, as is the rest of the department, to find out what happened and why."
Baltimore Sun reporters Hanah Cho and Alison Knezevich and Howard County Times reporters Lindsey McPherson and David Greisman contributed to this article.