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News Maryland Baltimore County Towson

WMAR barricade suspect had been hospitalized for mental illness, mother says

Vladimir Mehul Baptiste imagined conversations with his family, according to his mother, banged on the walls of his home screaming, "What's wrong with me?" and sat in a rainstorm because he said it felt good.

The man now accused of ramming a stolen truck into the WMAR television station had been hospitalized at psychiatric facilities in recent years, his mother said in an interview. She expressed concern her son was using marijuana.

Baptiste was under outpatient care as recently as Monday — one day before police say he barricaded himself into the Towson offices of Channel 2 news. The puzzling attack sent employees scrambling out of the building Tuesday and shut down York Road — a prominent southern entry point into the Baltimore County seat — for hours before a tactical team arrested him.

"Tell everybody we are sorry," his mother, Merizia "Mae" Saindor Baptiste, said on Wednesday. "He's not in his right mind."

No one was injured in the attack. While police said they don't have a motive, police documents released Wednesday said Baptiste believed that by entering the station he could close a portal to alternate universes.

Police said Baptiste told them such "multiverses" were responsible for recent events, including the mass kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The documents also say he referred to himself as a reincarnation of "King Tut" and "Jesus Christ."

"I'm happy he didn't kill anybody," Mae Baptiste said. "God didn't let him kill somebody, thankfully. I don't think I could have lived with that."

Baptiste, 28, is being held in the Baltimore County Detention Center in lieu of $750,000 bail. He has been put on suicide watch, his mother said. He faces 11 criminal charges, including three counts of attempted second-degree murder.

At the Towson television station Wednesday, two police officers stood in the lobby as workers continued repairs.

A delivery man dropped off a stack of pizzas to the busy newsroom, which was fully operational. "I'm just trying to take care of mine right now," WMAR News Director Kelly Groft said as she hustled around the room overseeing the news operation.

General manager Bill Hooper did not know how long repairs would take but said safety was his top priority in the reconstruction of the lobby. He said employee morale was high after the staff overcame a daylong evacuation to put together a newscast and live stream from the damaged building Tuesday night.

"A tired group — a little mentally exhausted — but a lot of high fives," he said.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger declined to comment on the case. He said defendants can get a mental evaluation under Maryland law to gauge whether they are fit to stand trial or whether they were aware of their alleged actions and the consequences.

Baptiste does not have a lawyer named in online court records. He has no criminal record listed in Maryland.

Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson described Baptiste as "mentally ill" after his arrest, something the chief said was apparent during the standoff. Police noted their observations in the statement of charges and police report released Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, Baptiste woke up and decided he was going to "expose the multiverse world," according to the documents. He walked from his Parkville home to Interstate 695 and York Road and allegedly stole a large green truck belonging to a State Highway Administration contractor.

Driving south, he saw the WMAR-TV station as an opportunity to "expose the multiverses," which he told police was "where bad things happen to people and they disappear because they're not real," the documents say.

He believed he could close the multiverses if he could get into the ABC affiliate's headquarters, police said, and he tried to violently yank the locked doors open when a security guard denied him entry.

"If you aren't going to let me in, I have something for you," he said, according to police documents.

He walked back to the truck, steered up the walkway and began ramming the front vestibule until he drove through. A witness said he sprayed a fire extinguisher and ran upstairs with a black bag while everyone else evacuated the building.

Baltimore County SWAT and K-9 officers found Baptiste barricaded in an office, where a video feed showed him watching news coverage of the event. He had taped messages to the window that included "I am God almighty!" and "I'm here to save you all from the energies," police said.

"Everything is unfolding I don't have to do anything!" said another message, signed "Love Vladimir (GOD)."

Tactical teams breached the room, police said, and found no weapons in Baptiste's black bag or in the building. He did have a golf club with him, police said.

In police interviews, Baptiste elaborated about "multiverses." He cited recent world events and tragedies as "examples of the multiverses in that they never actually happened," police wrote in their report.

When police asked him why he targeted WMAR, he told detectives he wanted to expose his parents because they are "running the multiverses." He said he didn't intend to hurt anyone.

"We do not know if there is a motive or why he chose WMAR," Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said Wednesday. "Mr. Baptiste's comments were incoherent."

Mae Baptiste, a geriatric nursing assistant who said she holds three jobs to make ends meet, immigrated to the United States from Haiti in 1990. Nine years later, she said, she brought over her six children, including Vladimir, to escape political turmoil.

She said her son, who is artistically talented and especially good working with the elderly, began making odd comments about a year ago. He often recited the words "oh boy, oh boy" repeatedly.

Last August, she said, he was hospitalized at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Towson. She said she did not know if he was diagnosed with a mental illness.

Her son often believed he had spoken with family members when he had not, she said. Baptiste would say, "I saw you, you didn't listen to me," his mother said. "He thought somebody is out to get me," she said.

After he left the hospital, he promised his mother he would continue working on his education but instead ended up at Sinai Hospital's psychiatric unit after a fight with his brother, she said.

"I said, 'Listen, keep him,' " Mae Baptiste said she told doctors. "Don't let him out. I need some help."

Doctors released him to an outpatient treatment program, she said. She believed her son was still at the program on Tuesday, when she returned from a job interview in the afternoon to find detectives at her door. It was her birthday.

She later found out that the outpatient program had "graduated" him on Monday, she said.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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Vladimir Mehul Baptiste

Age: 28

Resides: Parkville

Charges: Eleven criminal counts, including three charges of attempted second-degree murder, multiple first-degree assault charges, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, burglary and theft.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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