The killing of three children in the Fallstaff neighborhood of Baltimore yesterday shocked and scared many residents, leading some to reconsider their perception of the area as a quiet, safe enclave apart from urban ills.

The Art Deco apartment complex is on the southern edge of a leafy neighborhood of mature trees and well-tended homes. Though largely Orthodox Jewish, the community is a mix of white, black and Hispanic residents.

'A tragedy'

"Anything involving the death of three children is a tragedy," said Rabbi Rex Perlmeter of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, which lies a few blocks north along Park Heights Avenue. "I just hope that we as a neighborhood and a community will respond compassionately and appropriately."

Summit Waller, 17, a sophomore at Douglass High School, said he often saw the victims playing in the yard of the apartment complex. He said he often walked to the store late at night and felt that the neighborhood was safe.

"But I'm not even coming outside anymore," he said. "Whoever did that, if they could do something like that to innocent kids, they could do it to anyone.

"When stuff like this happens, you never look at your neighborhood the same again."

As dozens of police vehicles jammed the streets last night, many Orthodox Jews, marking the end of the Shavuot religious holiday, stood watching the scene unfold. Several neighbors said they didn't know much about the people who lived in the first-floor apartment at 7010 Park Heights Ave.

'Their lives are gone'

Anthony Johnson, who lives in the building next door, said he was home all day and heard nothing out of the ordinary, only learning of the killings when police knocked on his door. Johnson, who said he has lived there two years, said the neighborhood is a good one, with no shooting even on New Year's Eve. He said he didn't know of any recent police calls.

"I've been crazy ever since it happened," he said. "That's what got me, the children. Their lives are gone."

Gregory Carter, who lives in another apartment in the same building, hadn't heard about the killings until he was called by a reporter at work. He described the crime as "unbelievable."

Carter said he had noticed adults going in and out of the apartment, adding that he thought a meat stand operated there. Another neighbor said the father sold tacos.

Carter, who is black, said he had lived in the neighborhood for almost two years and had no problems. He described the neighborhood as one where people from different backgrounds speak out of courtesy but seldom mingle.

"Even though we're a mixed-race neighborhood, you still can tell we stick to our own race," he said.

Maria Compos, 38, a cleaning woman who moved to the neighborhood because of its high concentration of Latinos and reputation as a safe place to live and raise a family, said she feels uneasy now.

"I have always felt safe here, but after this, I don't know," she said.

Isaac Klein, an area resident and defense lawyer, was visiting his parents around the corner and saw the commotion. He said he didn't think the killings would have a negative effect on the neighborhood.

"I don't think this will upset the community because it's very stable," he said. "They have a very good relationship with the Police Department." From what he had heard of the killings, he added, "we're pretty satisfied that it's not a random act."

Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, called the neighborhood "relatively peaceful," adding that there have been few major crimes compared with other parts of the city.

"I'm shocked," Abramson said.

Sun staff writers Frank Langfitt, Jason Song, Michael Dresser, Ryan Davis and Richard Irwin, and staff researchers Paul McCardell and Jean Packard contributed to this article.