A 25-year-old Odenton man was shot and killed early yesterday morning as he was leaving a Christmas party at the Hawthorn Neighborhood Center in Columbia, leaving residents of the subdivision to question the way the facilities are managed.
Police have a suspect in the case but have not arrested him, they said.
The victim, identified by police as Sean Philip Wilson, 25, of the 1300 block of Hallock Drive, arrived at the party in the neighborhood of $200,000 homes around 12: 15 a.m. to pick up a cousin's friend. As Wilson was departing the party attended by about 100 people ages 18 to 25, he exchanged words with another man who pulled a gun and shot Wilson in the chest before fleeing, police said.
Police identified the suspect as Willie Marquez Hampton, 21, who resides in Columbia and Baltimore County.
Police visited the site three times -- around 8 p.m. before the party started, at 10 p.m. after neighbors called to complain of loud music and again shortly before the shooting as part of a routine check, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a Howard police spokesman.
"It seems like some sort of problem erupted outside and that led to a guy getting shot," Keller said. "It's certainly not our everyday homicide happening in the parking lot of a neighborhood center."
Many neighbors expressed shock when they learned of the homicide. Many also questioned how the neighborhood centers are run andwho they are rented to.
Some neighbors said they were awakened by gunfire, sirens and the loud drumming sound of a helicopter about 12: 45 a.m.
They said the street in front of the center, Sunny Spring, was blocked by more than 10 police cars while the helicopter scanned the area below with a searchlight.
"I woke up because I heard this pop noise that sounded like gunfire going off and then I heard all this noise of police sirens, and helicopters swooping around, shining their lights," said Lon Gruesbeck, who lives across the street from the center.
"Things were blocked off with the yellow police tape and there were police lining the street. Things like this just don't happen in this quiet little neighborhood."
Mary McCahill, whose back yard adjoins the center's property, said, "It's pretty scary when you wake up and look outside and see a huge helicopter circling your yard, knowing people might be in there. Nothing like this has ever happened before. We haven't even had a string of robberies in years."
"It makes you feel so vulnerable to know a crime is happening, and especially a murder, right in your own back yard," she said.
Joe Lemmon, who lives next door to Gruesbeck, said he called police four times between 9 p.m. and midnight Friday night to complain of the rowdiness in the parking lot. He said he has also written letters over the past two years to the village center association demanding that parties end earlier to alleviate noise.
"I heard all the racket last night because my walls were vibrating from the music, because the music from boomboxes was so loud," said Lemmon. "The police responded quickly the first time, but after that things really didn't get much better. This is is what happens when the association puts revenue over concerns of community."
William Inglis, 57, who lives near the center, said, "They bring in kids, don't monitor their alcohol and then when they get out, they're anxious to continue partying. They wander around looking for something to do and that can usually lead to trouble -- like in this case."
Alcohol is usually allowed in the center, but party organizers had agreed not to allow alcohol because many attending would be younger than 21.
Neighbors and Hickory Ridge Village Manager Jane Parrish said alcohol was sneaked into the party. Parrish found empty beer and wine bottles in the center's bathrooms yesterday. A liquor and wine bottle were also visible in the center's parking lot yesterday.
Rental policy questioned
Parrish wrote Lemmon in July and told him that a night's rental of the center generated sorely needed money for the village association, but that parties would end by 1 a.m.
"It really makes me wonder how my $600 Columbia Association dues are being used to run the centers," Inglis said.
Ernest Capelle, 47, whose back yard meets the center's Tot Lot, said he worries that renting the center to anyone draws in people from outside the village.
"There's plenty of other places for people to carry on parties where they don't need to use this center that's designed for village people's parties and events," he said. "If it's lots of outside-Columbia and outside-village people coming in to use the center, they should go somewhere else.
"I don't think they should bring their problems in here."
But some Columbia officials and neighbors said they wouldn't want to see the neighborhood center close its doors to outsiders. That may not be the solution, they say.
"I'm not sure any action from the neighborhood center could have prevented this tragic incident," said Mike Rethman, chairman of the Columbia Council and a Hickory Ridge Village JTC Board member. "We could eliminate all problems like noise by not having any parties or not letting people go outside, but that's taking away from everyone in the community.
"Where do you draw the line?" he said.
Late yesterday afternoon, Wilson's sister, Cheri Wilson, said her brother, who was taking barber classes part time in Bladensburg and working at a children's clothing store in Laurel, always had a tough time walking away from confrontations.
"He thought he was invincible," she said, holding back tears. "I always warned Sean to watch out for young guys who were looking to be hotheads. This time they were directing it at Sean.
"I was supposed to be shopping these last few days before Christmas," she said. "Now I'll be preparing my brother's funeral so we can bury him on Christmas Eve."
Wilson's slaying was the fifth in Howard County this year. Anyone with information in the case is asked to call Metro Crime Stoppers at 276-8888.
Pub Date: 12/22/96