On the evening of Aug. 27, George Roberts finally arrived home at his Idlewylde house around 10 p.m.
Instead of returning home early that evening to hear about his daughters' first days of school at Dumbarton Middle and Stoneleigh Elementary, Roberts, principal of Perry Hall High, made the drive home down East Joppa Road late in the August night with a heavy heart — and knowledge that his own school community had been changed forever.
Roberts had endured every school administrator's nightmare that morning on the first day of school when a student, 15-year-old Robert Wayne Gladden Jr., allegedly brought a shotgun into school, assembled it in a bathroom and shot another student, 17-year-old Daniel Borowy.
Borowy was critically injured and taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, leaving Roberts and his stunned staff to deal with a chaotic scene that afternoon and a fractured community since then.
By all accounts, Roberts has excelled in making that community whole again. Councilman David Marks, whose district stretches from Perry Hall to Towson, named the principal the 2012 5th District Citizen of the Year.
"George Roberts would stand apart even if the shooting never occurred on Aug. 27," Marks said in a statement announcing the honor. The councilman said Roberts is one of the best principals in school history, but the shooting "demanded a special type of leader" and Roberts "set the tone of leadership that was needed on Aug. 27 and days afterward."
In the ensuing days, weeks, and months since the shooting, Roberts said both the Perry Hall community and the Towson community have been invaluable.
"We all rallied around each other," he said. "A lot of neighbors, whether through email, out on the street, visiting with neighbors — just over the course of living in the neighborhood — were very supportive."
Any way they could, be it meals for his family or lending an ear to listen to Roberts' concerns, neighbors offered their services to Roberts and his family.
"They wanted to let me know they were there," he said. "It was more just letting me know, 'George, we're here. If there's anything you need, let us know. We're praying for you. We're praying for the school, for Perry Hall.' They just wanted me to know that, which was certainly a very big help and support at the time."
Even now, almost four months after the shooting, neighbors who wish him well are still seeking Roberts out.
"I just spoke with someone, a neighbor, last night, who said he was still thinking about the school, still saying prayers for the kids, the school and the community," Roberts said.
The same is true, throughout the Perry Hall community.
"To this day, we're all here for each other," he said.
With recent news of other school shootings — and in particular, the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month — memories of the Perry Hall shooting return, said Roberts, and "stirs the emotions back up." Students and teachers remember themselves hiding under cafeteria tables and staring blankly out into the distance after the school was evacuated.
"I think it's just going to be a roller coaster ride through some milestones over the next year or two, where we think we're OK, we're moving on, and then something happens," Roberts said.
But for all those ups and downs, Roberts takes heart knowing he has continuous support, all the way from Perry Hall High to his Idlewylde neighborhood.
Tom Lattanzi, president of the Idlewylde Community Association, lives a few houses down from Roberts. The whole neighborhood, Lattanzi said, has reached out to Roberts and praised him for his leadership; though Roberts often defers to his staff.
Lattanzi said Roberts, who is a parishioner at St. Pius X in Towson and coaches his daughters' Towson Recreation Council soccer teams, is always one of the first to volunteer when the 700-member community needs to organize an event.
"You always appreciate people like that," Lattanzi said. At the association's annual block party, Roberts arrives early to set up before manning a grill and slinging burgers to his neighbors throughout the event.
"The 5th District has many different communities, but good people in all of them," Marks said in his statement. "George Roberts is not just a great administrator, but he educates us all in how to be a strong leader."