The neighbors at Colonial Square Apartments in Glen Burnie had learned to keep their distance from the man in unit G.
They noticed him muttering to himself and searching the dumpster. He carried a ring of keys on his hip and cursed angrily if he fumbled for one. His front door was often cracked open — as if to spy out.
None of this, however, suggested the violence that erupted here Monday, when police say James Verombeck, 53, blasted a shotgun into the chest of the young software engineer who lived upstairs.
Verombeck, a grounds worker for Anne Arundel County Schools, has been charged with murder. At a bail hearing, pretrial services said he suffers schizophrenia. Prosecutors said he confessed, too. A judge ordered him held without bail at the Jennifer Road Detention Center in Annapolis.
Online court records did not list Verombeck’s public defender.
Still, questions haunt these neighbors. They gathered Thursday afternoon and wondered about the awful fate that brought together these two men: a 22-year-old engineering whiz recruited to work for Northrop Grumman; a 53-year-old maintenance worker with a history of threats — units K and G.
The neighbors told police Verombeck had stood over the body. What had caused him to explode? they wondered. Why Tyrique?
Tyrique “TJ” Hudson had graduated early from North Carolina A&T State University — a year and a half early — and recruiters from the defense contractor took him to dinner and offered him a job. Growing up in Wilson, N.C., he never missed school or church. He was soft-spoken and studious, though he relished superhero movies and slam dunks of LeBron James.
His mother helped him find the apartment close to his office in Annapolis. Colonial Square was bright and cheerful with its red and yellow tulips, welcome banner and signs: “pet friendly” and “energy efficient.” Last summer, he moved in.
Soon enough, he was offering to help neighbor Nora Ayala carry groceries. He was smiling and waving to Cherrelle Hunigan downstairs.
“For a 22-year-old, he didn’t throw parties. There weren’t girls running around,” Hunigan said. “He was very, very polite.”
He’s not videotaping you, OK? He’s not watching what you are doing. Do you understand?— Judge Devy Patterson Russell to James Verombeck
Hudson made friends at Northrop Grumman, too. They went bowling, watched movies and rode scooters to restaurants in Baltimore. He was promoted. “A bright and promising engineer,” his manager wrote.
Months went by. As he would tell his father, he never spoke to the man living directly below him.
Verombeck had lived in Colonial Square before Hudson moved in. Just how long, neighbors can’t say. They didn’t know much about him.
But 30 miles south lives Ann Saulter, his ex-wife, who says their brief, tumultuous marriage left her scared for her life.
They had met at her girlfriend’s party in 2006 and he asked her out. He seemed sweet and they married later that year. Then, everything changed.
“As soon as we got married, it was like night and day,” she said. “It’s like I was the enemy — and he was coming for me.”
She had two children from a previous relationship. When her son left the faucet dripping in the bathroom, she said, Verombeck erupted.
“His punishments didn’t fit the crime,” she said. “He would get mad and not talk, but look at you like he wanted to kill you over something like that.”
The outbursts escalated, though they never became violent. Sometimes, he kept silent for hours. Saulter says she felt intimidated.
“I didn’t want my kids growing up feeling like they were walking on eggshells,” she said.
She filed for divorce after a year and a half, but he asked her to marriage counseling. Only later did she find him on dating websites, she says — even then he begged her to continue counseling — and she called it off. An Anne Arundel County Circuit judge granted their divorce in March of 2010. But why was his car driving past her house? she wondered.
Saulter says she spotted him in her rearview mirror. He followed her to work and her children’s daycare. Worried, she would head for the closest police station.
“I thought he was going to kill me in front of my kids,” she said.
An Anne Arundel County judge granted her a protective order, but Verombeck violated it right away. It was May 2010 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Saulter felt the protective order saved her and the children. She told the court she didn’t want him jailed.
He promised to stay away. Months went by, then years — all quiet.
In February, Hudson was taking out the trash when he noticed someone watching him. It was about 10 a.m. Feb. 16, and he saw the man’s bright green shirt.
Hudson would describe the encounter in his own request for court protection. When he stepped into the hallway, Verombeck was waiting.
“You knew this day was coming,” Verombeck told him, according to Hudson’s account. “You know what you did.”
Hudson was confused.
“I didn’t know what he was talking about,” he wrote to the judge.
He wrote that Verombeck drew his thumbs across his neck.
“He gave me the death gesture,” Hudson wrote.
Moments afterward he called 911 and his father living in North Carolina. Tyrone Hudson remembers his son was upset.
“He kept saying, ‘I never seen this guy a day in my life,’” his father said.
That same day Tyrique Hudson filled out the papers for a peace order. Three days later he walked into a Glen Burnie courtroom for the hearing.
The judge was Devy Patterson Russell, who two months earlier had left the bench in Baltimore. A state panel that oversees judges had found Russell had screamed at her colleagues in Baltimore, pushed one courthouse staffer and neglected her paperwork. The panel had recommended she be suspended for six months and the Maryland Court of Appeals was considering the matter.
Until then, she was presiding over district court in Glen Burnie. On Feb. 19, Hudson and Verombeck stepped to the front of her courtroom.
Russell did not return a message about the hearing.
Hudson recounted their tense meeting in the apartment hallway.
“What started this friction?” the judge asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Hudson said. “This is our very first encounter.”
The judge asked Verombeck.
“Your honor, I found out that he was videotaping me in my home,” he said. “[Hudson] had a hidden camera in my apartment.”
“How do you know he has been watching you?” the judge asked.
Verombeck would hear Hudson’s steps overhead, he explained.
“I’m in my apartment and I put on an adult DVD, I hear him walk across the living room,” he told the judge. “I hit the stop button and I hear him walk away.”
Verombeck said he tested this over and over again. The footsteps would return when he started the video, he told the judge, as if the person above were watching too.
Russell sounded confused, but Verombeck went on.
“He’ll get up from his chair and start walking down the hallway,” he said. “He’s watching me. He had a camera he ran down through --”
“You’ve never seen with your own eyes this video camera?” the judge asked.
“No,” Verombeck said.
“You just kind of infer because he moves around his apartment?”
In his request for a peace order, Hudson had written that he sought protection from stalking, harassment and threats of violence. Russell told him such a request requires a pattern of behavior — not one single encounter.
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Still, she sought to assure Verombeck about what was happening upstairs. Hudson was quite simply, she said, walking around.
“You’re not recording him, are you?” she asked.
“No,” Hudson said.
“He’s not recording you,” she told Verombeck. “He’s not videotaping you, OK? He’s not watching what you are doing. Do you understand?”
In two months, Hudson would be gunned down in the stairwell before two witnesses. After a 10-hour standoff, police would burst through the walls into Verombeck’s apartment, arrest him and charge him with the murder.
In court that day, Russell had denied the peace order. But she had encouraged them to get along.
“Maybe we can be more neighborly in the future.”