Bel Air neighborhood deals with aftermath of Thursday homicide

A 16-year-old boy suspected of killing a Bel Air woman remained hospitalized Friday as police continued their investigation and the woman's neighbors dealt with the shock of a homicide in a normally safe community.

"It was just very shocking, very shocking," resident Darrin O'Bannon said of the murder.

Donna Zaragoza, 56, was found dead Thursday morning in a second-floor bedroom in her townhouse in 1000 block of Jeanett Way in the Irwin's Choice community just north of Bel Air.

Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies were alerted at 6:36 a.m. regarding a report of a person threatening to commit suicide.

It was the latest in a string of calls for service at the same house, according to neighbors and the Sheriff's Office.

Deputies entered the house and found Ms. Zaragoza's body in the bedroom. The 16-year-old suspect, whose name the Sheriff's Office has not yet released, was in another room. He had a number of stab wounds that were self-inflicted, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The youth was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, where he remained as of Friday afternoon, according to Kyle Andersen, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office.

"When the 16-year-old is charged, and served, I will be able to identify, but I cannot at this time," Andersen stated in an email.

He also noted he could not confirm how the suspect and Ms. Zaragoza were related until after the suspect is charged.

Andersen said he did not yet know when he would be able to identify the suspect.

Police have said the 16-year-old was a student at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air.

A man who said he was a cousin of the teen's late father was working in Ms. Zaragoza's townhouse Friday. A "welcome" banner could be seen planted in the front lawn, along with sunflowers that were growing tall.

The man declined to make a comment on what had happened in the house the day before.

One homeowner who lives a few doors down from the scene recalled "a lot of yelling, a lot of screaming" coming from the house.

"There was a lot of strife over there," John Przybyla, who has lived in the community for seven years, said.

He spoke with an Aegis reporter via FaceTime, the iPhone video calling service. Przybyla said the yelling and screaming often came from the 16-year-old.

"Literally, people would knock on their door and say, 'Hey, can you calm it down over there?'" Przybyla recalled.

He noted Ms. Zaragoza, plus two other people who lived in the house, were "always polite, always friendly" when interacting with their neighbors.

"They were always very nice to everybody, if you saw them on the street," he said.

Police have been to the house a number of times for different issues, including drugs, domestic matters, animal complaints and medical emergencies, Sheriff's Office Maj. William Davis said during a news conference Thursday.

A fatal drug overdose happened in the house in 2016, but Davis said that incident and the other calls do not appear to be related to the homicide.

Neighbor Darrin O'Bannon, who lives a few more doors down, said he has only seen police respond to Ms. Zaragoza's house twice in the eight years he has lived in the neighborhood — once for the overdose call and once for the previous day's homicide investigation.

He said the neighborhood is usually quiet and safe for children to play.

Mohammad Hossain, who lives up the hill from the homicide scene, said the neighborhood is "actually beautiful."

Hossain, a civilian employee of the Department of Defense and an Army veteran, said the community is populated with law enforcement officers, other DOD civilian workers and active-duty military.

"We actually love it," he said of his family.

Hossain said he seen police respond to the Zaragoza house in the past year, since he returned from working in Afghanistan last summer.

"I never thought it was that dangerous, all those calls," he said.

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