A collective sigh of relief could be heard in the Berkshire neighborhood of eastern Baltimore County yesterday as neighbors held a block party to celebrate a return to normality -- or maybe something even better -- since the four-day police standoff with accused killer Joseph Palczynski ended nearly three weeks ago.
About 250 people gathered at Berkshire Elementary to eat hot dogs and hamburgers and recall long days spent in a shelter or locked in their homes.
The neighborhood was under siege while Palczynski held three hostages for four days before police shot him after two captives made a daring escape.
Though a bad memory, the incident forced neighbors to rely on one another, they said yesterday. Residents also said they have begun to confront a drug problem that had many of them afraid to enjoy their neighborhood even before the standoff that made international news.
"The neighborhood was falling apart," said Theresa Swayne, who has lived in Berkshire six years. "We need a community association. That's the only way we're going to get things done. We don't want to be remembered for the Palczynski thing. We want to be remembered because we have a beautiful community."
Now residents vow to launch a community association so they can get more attention from police and politicians to help with their troubles.
County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger joined the festivities and pledged support from county government. "Don't hesitate to call on the county when there are issues that bother you," he told the crowd. "I call out to you to keep this momentum going."
In between snacks, children danced with a comedy duo sent to entertain the crowd, frolicked in two "moon bounces," and visited a county police helicopter that landed on the school's baseball field.
After Palczynski imprisoned his former girlfriend's mother, the mother's boyfriend and their son at their Lange Street apartment on March 17, county police locked down several blocks of the neighborhood.
Couples were separated. Those left in their homes were instructed to sleep on the floor, while others spent hours at a shelter, eating, sleeping and watching television with neighbors who were strangers, residents said.
They aren't strangers now.
"I found there were people that I probably would've crossed the street to avoid that during the two nights in the shelter became like a family," said Bonnie Edelenbos, a 41-year-old mother of two. "Everybody had to cope with the same situation. People covered with tattoos, people I thought were rough, were very, very nice people."
During her stay in the shelter, Kelly Rye thought to hold a block party for the neighborhood after the siege was over. Businesses donated the food and entertainment.
"I was thinking to myself something good has got to come of this," said Rye, who was busy gathering names of neighbors who are interested in forming a community association. A charter meeting is planned for next month, she said.
"When this whole Palczynski thing happened, we were forced to come together as a community. That was a nice feeling," she said. "There was no reason why you shouldn't feel like that every day. The majority of us are homeowners and renters who care about the community."
Several residents yesterday blamed drug problems on Lange Street for the neighborhood's previous troubles. "For the past five years, we've been having problems with drugs," said Olga Fischer, who has lived on Berkshire Road for 47 years. "We want to bring the people back together like it was before."