For the second time in less than a week, a group of young men in southern Howard County has ended a dispute with gunfire, police say, leaving an 18-year-old Beltsville man in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head.
The 18-year-old and a 20-year-old man were shot Wednesday night behind Whiskey Bottom Shopping Center in the 9100 block of All Saints Road in North Laurel. The night of Aug. 27, two 17-year-olds were shot several times in Savage. A 16-year-old has been charged in that incident, police said.
Area residents said the shootings came as no surprise because they are seeing more drug activity and violence.
Witnesses said two cars, a pedestrian and a bicyclist approached a small group of men at the back of the shopping center about 8 p.m. Wednesday. Then they heard gunfire.
"I heard two gunshots," said Wendy Collins, 17, who was working at the shopping center. "I knew they were gunshots." She said he had heard shots in the same area a month ago.
"About 10 minutes later, I saw two cars pull off," she said, one going to the left and the other to the right.
Collins said the pedestrian and bicyclist quickly left the scene.
"One of them was smiling," the teen-ager said.
Witnesses said that immediately after everyone left, the police arrived. They found an 8-foot trail of blood behind the shopping center.
County police did not release information about the shooting until 13 hours later.
They said two people were shot with shotguns, and friends drove them to Laurel Regional Hospital.
William Kirk Vanness Jr., 18, of the 4500 block of Tonquil St. was wounded in the head, arms and leg and was flown from the Laurel hospital to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, police said. He was still on the critical list last night, a spokeswoman said.
The other victim, Karum Hasan Taylor, 20, of the 11000 block of Old Baltimore Pike in Beltsville, was shot once in the buttocks and refused treatment, police said.
Police have no one in custody and have named no suspects.
Officers said they do not know how many shots were fired but "we found two shell casings from a shotgun," said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a county police spokesman.
Officials said they believe the shooting was sparked by an argument that began two weeks ago and continued Wednesday night.
"This appears to be some kind of ongoing dispute" that was not drug-related, Carroll said.
Vanness' family said he was outgoing and tried to make people laugh.
"He's a really nice kid, and it's unfortunate," his mother, Rachel Vanness, said in a telephone interview from Shock Trauma.
Withdrew from high school
Vanness withdrew from High Point High School in Beltsville in February, said Jocelyn Harris, a spokeswoman for Prince George's County schools.
The shooting in Savage occurred shortly before midnight a week ago. Two 17-year-old males were shot several times in front of a house in the 8800 block of Baltimore St.
Police believe that the argument also was part of a dispute.
They charged Andrew E. Scott, 16, of the 9200 block of Vollmerhausen Road as a adult with attempted murder, assault and handgun violations.
"We have absolutely no information to believe this is related to the [North Laurel] shooting," Carroll said.
Part of a larger problem
But residents think the shooting is part of a larger problem in the community.
Some said they have become accustomed to seeing drug transactions and vandalism in their neighborhoods, particularly near the shopping center, where groups of young men gather. Residents asked police for more area patrolling, but nothing has changed, they said.
"It's not even safe to leave your door anymore," said Ricky Meadows, 37, who lives across from the shopping center.
Others said they used to clean up after groups who gathered near the shopping center.
"I would go there and find knives and syringes," said a member of the Patuxent Ridge Neighborhood Watch who lives across the street from the shooting site. She said she feared having her name publicized. "Hopefully, this will do it -- get us more patrolling."
Some residents said they feel they have to carry weapons to defend themselves. They said the current problems began about seven months ago.
"It is pretty wild" near the site of the Savage shooting, said Ivan Carpenter, 17, of Jessup, who said he was a friend of Scott. "People get beat up. I got beat up that same night."
County police defended their actions, saying they are conducting activities in the area to curtail crime.
"There has been something done down there," said Capt. Michael Kessler, commander of the Southern District. "I can't be more specific at this time."