Vandals remove memorials to teen who was slain and 2 who died in crash


Homemade memorials for three Columbia teens, two who died in a car crash and one a murder victim, have been vandalized or removed from sites on Governor Warfield Boulevard and Little Patuxent Parkway, apparently during the Thanksgiving holiday, family members say.

Police believe a few joy-riding teens may have snatched the homemade cross put up by the parents of 15-year-old Tara Gladden, whose body was found over the summer in a culvert beneath Little Patuxent Parkway near her Vantage Point neighborhood.

"It's just an atrocity," said John Gladden, the girl's father. "It meant a lot to us."

Decorated with pink and white silk flowers, the 3-foot high cross was placed in the grassy median along busy Little Patuxent Parkway and became a familiar sight for motorists in the Town Center community for 16 weeks.

A family friend built the cross and placed it there two days after police found the girl's body Aug. 17.

A short distance up Governor Warfield Boulevard, yellow ribbons and other mementos have been removed from the pine tree where two 18-year-old Columbia men, Martin A. Briggs-Hall Jr. and Randy Rondell Jennings, died April 16 when their 1992 Geo Storm crashed into the tree and caught fire.

Columbia Association maintenance crews have worked around both sites for months, and family members occasionally rearranged the memorials.

Passers-by often straightened the Gladden cross when it leaned in the mud, Mr. Gladden said. Otherwise, the cross had been left untouched, except when family members and friends brought fresh flowers.

Mr. Gladden said neighbors and co-workers had been asking him why he decided to remove the cross.

He said he plans to build a new cross in Tara's memory soon.

Mr. Gladden said he last saw the cross when he returned home from work the night before Thanksgiving. When he left home on Thanksgiving Day, he noticed the cross was gone.

He learned that the other memorial had been removed when a parent of one of the accident victims told him, Mr. Gladden said. Both parents were attending a grief counseling session.

"It really upset me," Mr. Gladden said. "Every time I go by, I look at it. It brought back memories of Tara."

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