Four teen-agers were being sought yesterday in the robbery and murder of a Towson State University student, who was accosted in Northeast Baltimore as he walked to a friend's house to borrow a book.
Joel J. Lee, 21, a computer science major who was to have started his senior year Tuesday, apparently resisted the youths and one of them shot him just below the right eye with a .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun, police said.
"He had been seen surrounded by four teen-agers, two of whom had on camouflage attire," said Agent Doug Price, a city police spokesman. "It appears the victim was a target of opportunity. He was accosted in the parking lot, robbed and shot in the face."
The shooting occurred shortly before 9:30 p.m. Thursday in a parking lot outside Dutch Village Apartments in the 7000 block of McClean Blvd. Mr. Lee, who lived in the 4100 block of Font Hill Drive in Ellicott City, had gone to the area to visit a friend, according to his father, Kenneth Lee.
"He was looking for his friend so he could borrow a book [on computers,]" Kenneth Lee said last night. "His friend called today and asked why he never came. I had to tell him [Joel] had been killed. He was really upset."
Wearing shorts, a T-shirt and tennis shoes, Mr. Lee died clutching a hand-drawn map of the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, which he was using to find his friend's home, said Detective Oscar Requer of the homicide unit.
The youths took Mr. Lee's wallet, containing a small amount of cash and identification, Detective Requer said. It also appears that the youths had been struggling with Mr. Lee over his blue backpack, judging from bruises on one of his arms, the detective said.
"It seems he put up some resistance when they tried to pull the back pack from him," Detective Requer said. The backpack, which contained personal items and Mr. Lee's car keys, was not taken in the robbery.
Mr. Lee's 1980 Oldsmobile was still in the parking lot when police arrived.
A passer-by, who said he didn't see the shooting but saw Mr. Lee surrounded by his attackers, reported that he seemed to be trying to walk away from the youths but they kept pace with him, Detective Requer said.
Police said the four youths are black and apparently 16 or 17 years old. The gunman is described as about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a dark complexion and a medium-bush haircut who was wearing a green-and-black camouflage jacket with the sleeves rolled up. Police have no further descriptions of the other three youths.
"This poor guy [Mr. Lee] was a true victim. He didn't deserve for this to happen to him," Detective Requer said.
An accomplished artist who loved to draw cartoons, Joel Lee hoped to land a job in the computer-animation field, his father said.
"He was a B student, a calm person who was a good studier and a good worker," said Kenneth Lee, 50, an environmental engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore.
Joel Lee had previously been enrolled at the University of Maryland at College Park and then at Catonsville Community College. He took numerous art courses at those schools, then went to Towson State to learn computer skills, Kenneth Lee said. His son belonged to the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity at Towson, he said.
The Lee family has lived in Howard County since 1983. Joel Lee was a 1989 graduate of Centennial High School, where he played on the lacrosse, soccer and baseball teams, his father said.
Kenneth Lee said that the family is taking the death hard. "We're trying to survive. I don't know why anyone would have done this," he said.
Crime problems have been on the rise in the McClean Boulevard neighborhood, a once-quiet residential area.
"I heard the police helicopters flying overhead last night, but that's nothing new. I didn't bother looking out the window," said Thelma Johnson, a six-year resident of the area. "I didn't know there was a murder until a lady at the bus stop told me about it."