Baltimore County squashes rumors of another 'purge' outside city

Security Square Mall in western Balto Co. closed Tuesday amid social media rumors.

Following rumors on social media of another planned "purge" like the one that led to rioting in Baltimore Monday, Security Square Mall, the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Baltimore County decided to close Tuesday.

At the mall, there was a visible presence of county and state police. All entrances to the mall were blocked and a helicopter circled overhead.

There were few passersby around the deserted mall parking lot, but those who did walk through were aware of the threat of violence.

"It could happen at any time," said Alex Winfield, a 22-year-old Woodlawn resident who came with a group of friends to see if there were any crowds around the mall.

Winfield said with West Baltimore just a few miles away, crowds could easily drive to the mall, a popular gathering space.

He said he spent some time on North Avenue during Monday's riots and understands the anger.

"A lot of things that went on yesterday were really uncalled for," Winfield said. "It's not just one thing that led up to yesterday's events."

Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said despite rampant rumors on social media, they have received no credible threats of rioting or destruction in the suburbs.

"We support everybody's right to peaceful protest but whatever is happening now has nothing to do with Freddie Gray. We will not tolerate criminal activity in Baltimore County," Kamenetz said.

He urged county residents to go about their normal activities.

The closures of Security Square Mall and some workplaces on the western side of the county were not done at the request of police, Kamenetz said. County schools did cancel after-school activities and games Tuesday, but Kamenetz said that decision was not based on safety concerns. Rather, he said many parents indicated they would keep their children home anyway.

Peter Joseph stood in the mall parking lot waiting for truck drivers to come to haul away his carnival rides that he normally would have been setting up for a two-week run. After talking with police and mall management Tuesday morning, he decided to cancel the carnival.

"It's a big disappointment for everybody," said Joseph, president of Annapolis-based Jolly Shows. "What's sad is the people causing these problems could care less about Freddie Gray."

Joseph said not only will his company lose money but more than 30 of his workers will be without work for two weeks.

As Joseph waited to ship out the 72-foot Gondola wheel and tilt-a-wheel, workers nailed sheets of plywood over windows at a nearby Weis grocery store.

Weis officials declined to comment.

Baltimore County has about 50 police officers working in the city, but the chief said there are still "adequate resources" to respond to any threats or concerns in the county.

Johnson said he doesn't expect any unrest in the county once the city's curfew goes into effect at 10 p.m., but officers are prepared.

"We think we can adequately meet any concerns that arise," Kamenetz said.

Baltimore County Police spokesman Cpl. John Wachter said the police did not ask the mall to close.

Mall management officials could not be immediately reached for comment. A security guard at the mall said the mall was closed.

Security Square Mall is located in Windsor Mill on the county's west side.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was also closing, a spokeswoman said. Several thousand people work at the agency, known as CMS.

Social security officials said they "are committed to the safety of our employees, many of whom reside in and around the community, as well as those who visit our local field offices. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mr. Freddie Gray and the City of Baltimore, during this time."

"While there are no credible threats at this time, out of an abundance of caution and after consulting with local Baltimore officials, we are implementing a staggered early dismissal of Social Security employees on our main campus," a Social Security spokesperson said in an e-mail. The agency's thousands of employees were set to be dismissed by 1 p.m.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this report.

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