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News Maryland Harford County Aberdeen Havre De Grace

Aberdeen perplexed by attacks on Vi Ripken

No one's a stranger in Aberdeen, residents say, and concerns about crime are rare. So, it's hard enough for many to believe an elderly woman would be threatened at gunpoint, much less on two separate occasions.

That the victim would be the matriarch of Baltimore's most celebrated baseball family — 75-year-old Vi Ripken, mother of former Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. — that's inconceivable.

"Everybody here, we know each other," said Barbara Hawkins, Vi Ripken's 69-year-old neighbor, "and it's unfathomable that this would happen."

According to police, Vi Ripken thwarted an armed carjacker as she made her way to the bank this week in this suburban city anchored by a military installation and a minor-league baseball stadium named after Cal. Last year she survived a kidnapping at gunpoint from her longtime Aberdeen home before being released unharmed about 24 hours later.

While the kidnapping remains unsolved, police on Wednesday identified the suspect they arrested in the attempted carjacking. Police said they do not believe the two incidents are connected, though they emphasize they are still investigating.

To be a victim of violent crime twice in sleepy Aberdeen, a town of 15,000, would seem statistically unlikely. Last year, there were just 75 incidents of violent crime reported, including cases of murder, rape, robbery and assault. That number puts the city's rate about 20 percent lower than the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Moreover, the Ripken family took special security precautions after the kidnapping, according to John Maroon, a spokesman for the family. He called the two incidents a "weird coincidence."

"Apparently, it was some scumbag who was trolling the bank looking for someone who was vulnerable," Maroon said, adding that Vi Ripken's strong will helped her protect herself. "Obviously, he didn't know Mrs. Ripken."

Crime studies show people affected by violent crime are more likely to be victimized again. Victims of domestic violence, for instance, are likely to experience repeated abuse. Location matters, so people who live in crime-ridden areas are more vulnerable. And some people might be more susceptible because they do not take steps to prevent violence, such as locking doors.

"In violent crimes, there is a greater likelihood of repeat victimization than property crime," said Deborah Lamm Weisel, a criminal justice professor at North Carolina Central University. "The best advice you can give to people is that if it happens to you once, you have to look at the risk factors and circumstances that made you the victim the first time."

Though the family is concerned, Maroon said the Ripkens are keeping an even keel. Hours after the carjacking attempt, Cal Ripken Jr. worked as part of the broadcast team televising a major league playoff game in Los Angeles.

Over the past year, Vi Ripken has said she maintained mostly normal routines, attending baseball games and remaining a visible presence in Aberdeen, because she did not want to live in fear.

"I didn't want to go and hide," Vi Ripken said in July, one year after the bizarre and brazen abduction. "I felt like if I keep away from things, it's not going to be very fun for me. I had to face it."

On Tuesday, a gunman approached Vi Ripken outside a NBRS Financial Bank and demanded her car before Ripken set off a panic alarm on her key chain that sent him fleeing. ATM surveillance video helped police identify Jesse A. Bowen, 33, a man previously convicted on weapons and theft charges, and they captured him walking along a road a few hours later.

Maroon said he didn't know whether the family planned to take additional steps to ensure Vi Ripken's safety after the latest incident.

For many in Aberdeen, it's hard to imagine that any additional security is needed.

"It's very quiet and definitely safe," said Ed Danz, 79, as he walked to church Wednesday on West Bel Air Avenue.

Nicknamed the "Gateway to the Chesapeake Bay," Aberdeen sits 30 miles northeast of Baltimore and is home to the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground. Government workers and contractors make up a large portion of the community, and the municipal government touts the minor league Ripken Stadium as one of its "big-city amenities."

FBI crime statistics show that violent crime dropped in Aberdeen from 79 incidents in 2011 to 75 last year. Aggravated assaults were down between those years, and the number of robberies — 34 — did not change.

"We don't have these kind of cases for the most part in Aberdeen," said Aberdeen Police Lt. Fred Budnick. "We think it's a crime of opportunity, and those kinds are a little bit harder to prevent."

Police do not believe Bowen is connected to Ripken's July 2012 kidnapping. That case remains unsolved, though police and the FBI received a fresh round of tips after Cal Ripken Jr. raised the reward for information leading to an arrest to $100,000 in August.

Budnick said Bowen does not resemble the suspect in the kidnapping, who police said was caught on surveillance video at a Walmart in Middle River. That man has been described as being in his mid-30s to mid-40s, about 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds, with short brown hair.

Court records list Bowen, 33, as being about 2 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter.

"They're not too similar, really," Budnick said of the physical descriptions. "And other than that, there's no indication he was involved. But again, that's something investigators will be looking at."

The FBI has been informed of the attempted carjacking but is not involved in the case, said Special Agent Richard Wolf, a spokesman for the Baltimore field office. "They're obviously looking at it to make sure it's not related," he said. "We certainly have a vested interest to make sure it's not related."

Bowen's last known address was the 800 block of Lafayette St. in Havre de Grace. He faces eight criminal counts, including attempted armed robbery, attempted armed carjacking, assault, weapons and drug charges.

Bowen's public defender, Laura Garcia, said at a bail hearing Wednesday that her client is a lifelong resident of Harford County and has a 6-year-old child. He received his GED in 1998 from Harford Community College and had been doing construction work for the past five years, she said.

Court records show that Bowen had been out on $7,500 bail at the time of the latest incident. Mary Buck, assistant state's attorney in Harford County, said at Wednesday's bail hearing that Bowen has violated his probation twice and has six other pending criminal cases. He has 12 prior arrests, which resulted in four convictions, she said.

District Judge Susan Hazlett denied bail for Bowen on Wednesday pending a preliminary hearing.

In Aberdeen, residents pondered what could be done to protect Ripken — and themselves from violence.

"I feel like, honestly, there needs to be more done," said Justin Copeland, 31, who says Aberdeen needs more neighborhood watches and better social services to help the homeless.

Others say Cal Ripken Jr. should hire bodyguards for his mother.

"Mr. Ripken should make somebody watch over her," said Vi Ripken's neighbor Monique Neely.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Bryna Zumer contributed to this article.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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